Putting state fee on electric cars is fair

Lawmakers are looking at adding a fee since electric-car owners don't pay the gas tax that helps fund roads.

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Washington state lawmakers are heading in the proper direction in considering imposing a $100 annual fee on electric cars as a matter of fairness.

Electric cars are becoming more and more common. If the trend continues -- and we suspect it will as the price of gasoline increases -- our roads will be filled with electric-powered vehicles.

Ultimately, it's a positive development in the nation's quest to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

But the owners of electric vehicles won't be paying their fair share of the tax collected to maintain and improve Washington state's roadways. In fact, they won't be paying any road taxes.

That's not right.

Washington state funds transportation largely through a tax on gasoline, which is currently 37.5 cents per gallon.

At this point, the wear and tear on roads caused by electric cars in comparison to the tax revenue lost is insignificant. That's going to change quickly as it seems electric cars are poised to really catch on. The technology has already improved to the point where the cars can travel safely on highways and go long distances. Chevrolet, for example, claims its Volt electric car can go up to 100 mph on electricity.

An analysis by the governor's budget office projects the number of electric vehicles subject to the tax would increase from around 1,800 this year to more than 8,900 by 2016, The Seattle Times reported. Currently there are 5.5 million cars and trucks registered in Washington.

It is estimated that about $200 in gasoline tax is paid on average annually by the owners of cars that travel 12,000 miles a year.

"Electric cars will be driving on the highways right along with all the other cars. One of our biggest issues is preservation and maintenance of our existing highways," said Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and lead sponsor of the $100 fee proposal. "We believe (electric-car owners) should be paying their fair share."

So, too, do we.

However, we aren't certain $100 is ultimately the right amount. Nor are we sure imposing it as a fee as part of the vehicle licensing process is the best approach long term.

After all, it's certain that electric vehicles will soon come in a variety of shapes and sizes and the wear caused to roadways will be different for each depending on size.

Perhaps, at some point, the electricity used to charge the cars could be taxed similar to the gasoline tax. Right now, given how few electric cars are on the road, that would probably cost more to administer than the revenue it generated.

That type of proposal is one that should be discussed more seriously when the electric-car market booms.

Until then, imposing a $100 annual fee would seem to be a reasonable and prudent approach.

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