The growth of the electric car industry is one of the hopeful signs Americans are taking the climate threat and this emerging technology seriously. Already electric vehicles and hybrids account for 3.5 percent of cars sold in Florida, the nation’s second highest rate. The sight of a Tesla hardly turns heads, and Elon Musk’s brainchild has company on the road in electric vehicles from Ford, Chevy, Kia, Nissan, Mini and other automakers.
So with climate change bearing down upon us, now is not the time to put the brakes on this momentum by levying fees on electric cars, as some states have done. To the contrary, Florida needs to increase incentives for electric vehicle purchases.
Like other states, Florida relies heavily on gas taxes, registration fees and the like to cover the heavy cost of roads, bridges and other infrastructure and services whose need vehicles generate. As motorists transition to electric vehicles, some states have been looking for ways to replace the gas tax revenues that electric vehicles don’t pay.
Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, among others, has been pushing for a flat fee on electric vehicles. He would charge $135 a year in addition to current license taxes. Big rigs would pay $235 a year. Adding a new charge on electric cars would run counter to the incentives that state and federal authorities have been putting in place to encourage the switch away from the polluting internal combustion engine.
Sure, it would benefit the petroleum industry, by shifting upward pressure on gas prices to electric cars, but it would come at the expense of a cleaner environment. Gently increasing gas prices are precisely what’s needed to nudge consumers to rethink vehicle choices. There’s some logic to having us all contribute to road upkeep but priority No. 1 has to be reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible. A new fee would make sense 30 years from now, after the transition but not now.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 47 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives for electric car use. These include high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions, purchase incentives, parking incentives and utility rate reductions. Utilities offer rebates and grants, and price reductions for off-peak charging.
Several states have implemented tax credits, rebates and registration cuts — as opposed to laying on new fees. A comprehensive list of what other states are doing can be found at ncsl.org.
Some states have ill-advisedly added fees, as Florida lawmakers are considering. But our lawmakers shouldn’t rush. Electric cars are catching on, and incentives won’t be needed forever. About 320,000 of the vehicles were sold in the U.S. in 2019, and there are already 43,000 public charging stations. But we’re not there yet.
President Biden’s proposed budget would expand consumer tax credits for electric vehicles built by union worker-powered assembly lines, notes former Pennsylvania Congressman Ron Klink. Klink endorses that plan as a way to not only ease pressure on the climate but to encourage U.S. production of electric vehicles.
“Zero-emission cars and trucks will save consumers money, cut pollution, benefit public health, advance environmental justice and help bolster our important work to stem the devastating effects of climate change,” he said.
Klink pointed to a bill by Michigan Democrats Sen. Debbie Stabenow and State Rep. Dan Kildee that would extend the existing electric car tax credit, expand it if the car is made by American union labor and again if it has a U.S.-made battery.
Some argue that it’s unfair that electric vehicle owners get to use the same roads as everyone else without paying for the maintenance. That means that as the percentage of gas-powered cars diminishes, there won’t be enough revenue to cover the cost, says Ananth Prasad, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association and former secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.
But Florida, with its heavy reliance on property taxes, sales taxes and fees, doesn’t need one more regressive tax to strain its citizens. And the world does need cleaner air quickly.