By MICHAEL NOYES
HELENA – Owners of electric and hybrid vehicles would pay a fuel tax per mile driven under a bill that will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session by a Kalispell Republican.
Keith Regier said Montana drivers currently pay a state tax of 27 cents per gallon of gasoline, 27 ¾ cents per gallon for diesel. Under his proposal, owners of plug-in-only vehicles would pay 1 cent per mile driven, while owners of hybrid vehicles would pay one-half cent per mile.
“For those who are buying gasoline and diesel we’re paying the road tax…They’re basically being exempt from paying this tax” Regier said. “It’s not a new tax. It’s just applying the tax we do have to electric (vehicles).”
With an average of 10,000 miles driven per year, Regier said owners of electric cars would pay about $100 per year if the tax is enacted. He said that’s roughly what residents who drive cars that get 25 miles per gallon pay in gasoline tax each year.
Regier said it is difficult to tell how much revenue the bill would generate given that he’s not certain how many electric vehicles are in Montana.
Feedback from constituents and fellow lawmakers has been positive, he said. Regier said he would be surprised if the bill had opposition among electric vehicle owners.
“Where are they going to drive those electric cars? If they have an electric car they still need a road to drive on,” Regier said.
Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative Paul Shively, in Missoula, called the idea “plain goofy.”
Shively said the legislature should encourage new ideas instead of penalizing emerging markets.
“It would not make much sense to penalize people for wanting to have a vehicle that breaks our addiction to oil,” he said. “You’re hurting the emerging market yet not making a dent in (revenue).”
Montana Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Director Jon Bennion said he has not yet examined Regier’s proposal but does think it is important for the legislature and Congress to look at long-term funding solutions for infrastructure.
“We’re happy that this issue is on the radar,” Bennion said. “The more ideas the better.”
A tax on miles driven is a relatively new idea, but the concept was explored by the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor in October.
“As more Americans buy hybrid or electric cars, drivers in traditional gas-only vehicles are bound to start asking: Why should I still be paying more in fuel taxes? Don’t we all use the highways?” their editorial said.
Regier said the tax would be assessed at the annual registration of a vehicle. The bill is currently being written.
Christian Science Monitor editorial: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2010/1005/Taxing-drivers-by-the-mile-and-not-by-the-gallon