Michigan state capitol, Lansing (photo by Brian Charles Watson)Enlarge Photo
Elected officials in yet another state have proposed levying taxes on electric cars. And just to make things interesting, this time the debate is happening in Michigan.
Similar initiatives have been discussed in states both red and blue, including Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Why tax hybrids and electric cars? Because they don't use gasoline -- or at least, they use less of it -- meaning that their owners cough up less gas tax revenue for state and federal coffers. And although there aren't nearly enough gas tax dollars to keep America's roads up to snuff, every little bit helps.
Which means, by political logic, that owners of hybrids and electric cars aren't paying their fair share to maintain the roads they use. And so, they should be taxed.
Of course, levying taxes on vehicles puts Republicans like Michigan governor Rick Snyder in a delicate position.
On the one hand, they hate raising taxes at all -- even (or especially) when those taxes reflect changing technology and a changing world.
On the other hand, there are so many cars on the roads these days, and those roads are in such poor shape, that states have to allot more funds to maintain them. Given the vast sums needed for construction and maintenance, it's impossible to raise those funds simply by cutting other important state programs.
And on a third, disembodied hand, many on the right have publicly ridiculed electric cars -- partially because of machismo, and partially because of the subsidies and tax breaks those vehicles receive. Levying taxes on hybrids and electric cars gives those vehicles importance: it says, "Yes, these cars matter" and forces disdainful legislators to eat some very bitter, lithium-laced crow.
Bottom line: they can't win for losing.
WILL IT PASS?
Snyder wants $1 billion to shore up Michigan's roads. To get it, he's surprised some by advocating for higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.
Snyder's plan isn't sitting well with many in his own party, and the prospects of it passing seem dim.
Interestingly, the electric-car tax has been proposed by another Republican, Representative Mike Shirkey. So far, Snyder seems wary of Shirkey's plan, stating, "I’d have to analyze that, but I’d say there’s competing interests on both sides of that question." Translation: "I'm going to have to review some poll numbers before making a decision".
If Shirkey's plan passes, it remains unclear what Michigan's automakers might say -- especially companies like General Motors, which makes the range-extended electric Chevrolet Volt.
[h/t: Edward Ellyatt]