Washington state legislature considering electric-vehicle fee

Somewhere in this tale, a lesson awaits to be learned — by legislators about the laws of unintended consequences, and by taxpayers about government interventions.   The state of Washington, which has pushed its citizens to buy electric vehicles through tax breaks and public-relations efforts, not to mention a tax on gasoline that is among the highest in the country, may slap owners of electric cars with an annual fee:

Drivers of electric cars may have left the gas pump behind, but there’s one expense they may not be able to shake: paying to maintain the roads.

After years of urging residents to buy fuel-efficient cars and giving them tax breaks to do it, Washington state lawmakers are considering a measure to charge them a $100 annual fee — what would be the nation’s first electric car fee.

State lawmakers grappling with a $5 billion deficit are facing declining gas tax revenue, which means less money to maintain or improve roads.

“Electric vehicles put just as much wear and tear on our roads as gas vehicles,” said Democratic state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This simply ensures that they contribute their fair share to the upkeep of our roads.”

Ah, their fair share.  Perhaps that would have been less had the state legislature not set up tax breaks for people to buy those cars in the first place, nor spent money on PR campaigns to do so.  Unlike internal-combustion vehicles that require a specific and unique fuel, electric cars can get charged anywhere, which removes the government intervention and taxation on the process — even if it doesn’t actually do anything to reduce pollution, as most electricity gets generated through burning fossil fuels in conditions no more efficient than a modern internal combustion engine [see update below].

Now taxpayers in Washington who bought the government’s line about electric cars being a better deal will have to pay the state a unique penalty for complying, if the state legislature gets its way.  That’s on top of the penalty of still paying too much for the class of car purchased, and the penalty of the eventual battery replacement and disposal costs that will make the resale value on their vehicle something close to nil.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Beware of bureaucratic geeks bearing gifts.  Or if you prefer it more NSFW (language warning!) and classically cinematic, let Otter explain it to you:

Update: Actually, according to the EIA, hydroelectric supplies almost three-quarters of Washington’s electricity now.  However, when car start plugging in rather than filling up, Washington’s going to need a lot more electrical generating capacity, and it’s doubtful it will come from hydro.  (Do you think environmentalists will cheer the building of new dams?  Neither do I.)  Unless they start building nuclear power plants now, they’re going to have to burn more coal to meet the increased demand.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023