Highway Robbery

Or how supposed progressives in our state legislature work against clean energy and the environment

Or how supposed progressives in our state legislature work against clean energy and the environment

By

I recently received the registration for my hybrid car and realized that we need to talk about this state-sponsored racket. No wait, before I continue, and before you accuse me of being a Hardcore Trump Loving Republican trying to secretly bring down the Corporate Democrat Shewmake cartel, I want to verify that I am a card-carrying, Bernie-supporting liberal. Well, ok most of the time I don’t have a party at all because the major parties generally disappoint me. But when it comes to the environment, infrastructure, or social policies, I think we need to get some way-better Democrats. Or at least ones that don’t lie to us all of the time to protect special interests. And, it turns out, the tabs for my hybrid are a perfect example of where and why things are going wrong.

Did you know that in Washington, owners of “green vehicles” are charged the highest green vehicle registration fees in the nation? We do this, apparently, to offset the “loss of revenue that the state gets from gas taxes.” All-electric and hybrid vehicle owners are financially punished by the state legislature for going Green. So Hybrid vehicles pay an additional tax of $75, and all-electric vehicles pay an additional $150. Does this approach seem counter-intuitive to anyone else? It certainly doesn’t encourage adoption of cleaner vehicles like most other states do, and it doesn’t hold carbon emitters accountable for polluting.  

This tax was originally sponsored by Representatives Fey, Orcutt, Slatter, Doglio, Tharinger, and Ramos. These are all, we should note, neo-liberal Democrats that claim to be progressives who care about the environment. When what they’re actually doing is protecting big oil interests, just like their Republican “opponents.” Because there aren’t really different parties, it’s just one big bunch of powerful, wealthy people who are trying to maintain the status quo. For an excellent article on neo-liberalism, please see this article from the Guardian, “the ideology at the Root of all of our Problems.” 

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Behnoosh Armani

Apr 24, 2022

You bring up a great point. Probably, most people are not aware until their 1st bill arrives. How about starting a petition?? I bet most people would would sign it.

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Joseph Wilson

Apr 24, 2022

What baffles me is why any owner of a “green vehicle” would ever think they should not have to pay a fair amount to help fund roads and highways expenses. $75 or $150/yr certainly is not an over charge for the average vehicle owner. 

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 24, 2022

Behnoosh, that’s not a bad idea. In general our elected officials don’t seem to care too much about what average citizens want, but it might be worth a try. (See how public broadband and electric buses are overwhelmingly popular issues with the public but even the Democratic party had to put resolutions on them through because their own candidates just don’t respond to what the citizens want. Even though they are aware.)
Joseph we are referring to AN ADDITIONAL TAX, on top of the regular registration fee. Green vehicle owners should not pay an additional tax because without a planet that’s capable of sustaining life for our species no one can make any money. Taxing oil products more makes more sense.
So how about you ask the oil companies to cover the difference by taxing them for the damage they’ve knowingly done sine Exxon released the report covered in this “Climate Town” episode in the 1970s!!!.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MondapIjAAM
You know, the one where the oil industry knew not only that their prodcut would result in the eventual extinction of the species, and how to solve it, but then chose not to and even destroyed new tech over the years that could have helped (See “Who Killed the Electric Car”). Perhaps they can cover the gap in taxes instead of people doing the right thing to clean up the air like people buying green vehicles. Now taxing the wealthy oil industry for the damage they’ve intentionally done and continue to do. Now that would be a fair tax.
“A fair amount to help fund road and highway expenses.” LOL. Can we get the mass transit systems back that our government enabled American auto-makers and big oil companies to destory back first?

 

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Joseph Wilson

Apr 25, 2022

I still say it baffles me what any owner of a “green vehicle” would ever think they should not have to help fund the roads and highways expenses. The additional tax you refer too is not an environmental tax; it is a road tax. Road taxes aren’t designed to be punishment over environmental issues. You seem to think that because your car uses less petroleum, you shouldn’t have to pay to maintain roads. That makes no sense whatsoever. If you want to avoid the road tax, get rid of your car.

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Todd Lagestee

Apr 25, 2022

I think $150 a year to help pay for the infrastructure in use is fair.

Assumptions:

EV annual additional registration charge: $150/year ( RCW )

Current Washington Gas Tax: $.494/gallon ( DOR )

Current Washington average vehicle miles per gallon: 20.5  ( avg mpg )

$150/year / $.494 /gallon = 304 gallons/year (rounded) (equivalent gallons of gas taxes paid in $150 registration fee)

304 gallons/year x 20.5 miles/gallon = 6232 miles per year of equivalent driving in an alternative fuel vehicle paying the $150/year fee.

Most of us drive more than 6000 miles per year, as that’s less than 20 miles per day.

To me there are lots of fights to be had and arguments to make (such as the great point about WTA ) however, a $150/year fee on a $40,000 EV car to pay for the roads driven on is not a neo-liberal attack on green vehicles in my opinion.

 

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 25, 2022

Vehicles should be taxed on weight. So it should cost about as much to register a Nissan Leaf (electric) as a Honda FIT, etc. Roads are worn out based on weight. Mass transit, like rail, removes wear from the roads. A Prius or LEAF doesn’t wear out the roads faster because it’s electric. In fact, it’s slower because as it ages there are fewer fluids to leak onto the roads, get into streams, etc. So an additional tax targeting vehicles based on their fuel technology makes no sense if you’re really taxing for wear. And yes, this tax was pushed through by Corporate Democrats.

 

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Todd Lagestee

Apr 25, 2022

Ok. Then let’s charge a base fee of $150 per year for EVs that weigh up to 4000 lbs. Since a Nissan Leaf weighs less that 4000 lbs, that’ll work.

Dimensions

A Tesla may weigh a bit more so we can ask $200/year for up to 5000 lbs. 

It’s still a reasonable fee for use of the infrastructure, and it isn’t privacy invading like a mileage driven fee could be.

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 25, 2022

Todd your argument is non-sensical. These taxes single out Hybrid and Electric vehicles based on their fuel saving technology not their actual impact on the roads. It still costs significantly less to register a 1985 Buick Regal that can weigh almost as much as a Hybrid or Electric vehicle, about $70 total, yet $150 total for a Hybrid and about $220 total for an all-electric. That’s crazy. The long-term answer is actually mass transit. So how about we switch these Hybrid and Electric car fees back to mega-polluters. Charge an additional $75 for any gas or diesel vehicle that has over 180 Horsepower and an additional $150 for any gas or diesel vehicle with 300 Horsepower or more.  Studies show that 92% of Americans need a car that generates about 90 Horsepower most of the time.

 

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Todd Lagestee

Apr 25, 2022

The gas guzzlers already pay in the increased use of gasoline… I don’t think $150 per year for an EV to drive on the roads is an excessive sum. I also do see “user fees” as somewhat reasonable and sensical.

I don’t think we’re going to see America adopt significant mass transit, outside of dense urban areas. I prefer to see actions based on what is actually going to be feasible, than what idealistic dream we seek to collectively achieve.

Personally, I’d rather see this effort against a user fee transfer to create a “carbon fee” to pay for the removal of atmospheric CO2 emitted by vehicles. I’m not a huge believer in the ability of the Climate Commitment Act to address removal of CO2 pollution. And I think we can create jobs in carbon capture and sequestration.

 

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 25, 2022

CO2 capture is currently a complete scam being pushed by Exxon, BP and big oil in general. For example, captured CO2 is currently being used for enhanced oil recovery and making our problems worse. Almost all captured CO2 is going to be used in this manner. There is only one company doing CO2 capture that is not planning on using it to get more fossil fuels out to burn and that’s Climewerks. 
This report from Greenpeace talks about how much of a scam CO2 capture is overall. Even with thousands of plants running all of the time we won’t remove enough carbon in time to curb the worst effects of global warming. The only real solution is to burn less fossil fuel. So yes, an additional tax on gas guzzlers makes sense on top of whatever fees they are paying for fuel. No one is making them drive those vehicles with the exception of people who need them for work. Even in the commercial realm though most overbuy.  
https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/research/carbon-capture-scam/
So there are no idealistic dreams here just practical solutions. Countries with excellent mass transit have been able to ban flights under 2.5 hours using their train systems that are often more efficient than flights over the same distance anyway in both time saved and emissions reduced . That’s right, traveld doesn’t have to be terrible, you just need to not have to deal with the airlines and you can do that if you have very fast trains that run on electricity. 
https://www.afar.com/magazine/france-bans-shorter-domestic-flights-to-curb-emissions
Having been to Ireland I can tell you that their mass transit systems work well even in rural areas. So yes, you can run mass transit jsut about anywhere and it makes sense. So what we have is a lack of infrastructure to help us fight climate change and a lack of maturity when it comes to our responsibility to each other and the environment. 
It is foolish to believe that nothing has to be done about fossil fuels and that slowing down the adoption of cleaner transit in anyway makes sense. There is no way that running a gas guzzling tank is fair to anyone or that punishing those doing the right thing is fair. Hybrid and electric cars still only make up a total of about 3% of cars on the road. So there simply aren’t enough of them out there to be having a huge impact on the tax for road maintenance in the first place. Certinally not enough to warrant an additional punishment tax specific to their vehicle type. 
So again, the taxes we’re talking about for hybrids and electric vehicles are additional. They have nothing to do with wear and tear on the roads. Wear and tear are based on weight and they weigh as much as many other vehicles that pay a lot less in registration fees.  
Using fuel for the basis for road repair was always stupid as even if hybrids and electric vehicles didn’t come into existance more efficient cars were on their way too. Vehicles that get 80 MPG using fossil fuels were definately protoyped. So what if those come out? Will we have them targted them with a “too efficient and not harmful enough vehicle tax?” Isn’t buying less fuel the point? 
 

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Bernie Housen

Apr 25, 2022

I was thinking about the issue because the tabs on my truck (Dodge 1500) and EV (Chevy Spark) both needed renewal last month. The Spark was almost twice the cost of the truck, and I had the same initial thought as the author, that this was a bit messed up. But, as well as realizing the purpose (tax revenue for roads and road improvement) it is also worth considering other incentives provided. The Spark was used, so no Federal tax credit. But, we did have sales tax waived, which in this state is a pretty big deal. So, is the policy perfect? No. But it is not too bad. And as the days get sunnier, the sunshine provides the juice to charge up the EV, and with net metering and a producer payment, that’s also a bit of good policy.

BTW, if you read your vehicle registration, there is a weight-based fee already in place, so my truck costs more to register than my Volvo.

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 26, 2022

Thanks Berine, I did read the registration and a lot more about the flawed logic behind the additional hybrid/EV tax. Again, these are additional taxes on top of normal registration spcifically targeted at hybrid and electric vehicles. Road wear is based on weight. So it would make sense for a Prius to cost as much to register as something of similar weight like the aforemetnioned 1985 Buick Regal if the argument is road wear and maintenance. However, the Buick costs less than half as much to register even though it does a lot more damage to the environment. The argument being, “well the Buick owner buys a lot more gas” yes they do, and that’s bad in the long run. Encouraging people to buy and burn more gas just to maintain the roads shows us that we need a better way. 
Yes, your truck weighs more and costs more to register, but if it were a hybrid or electric truck it would cost an additional $75 (if a hybrid) and $150 (if electric) to register. So it’s not a valid comparison. If we compared your truck to an electric or hybrid truck that would be a valid comparison. Yes, electric and hybrid owners pay less is gas because they save fuel. That’s the point. Again, road wear is based on weight so the logic behind this tax is flawed. 

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Nicholas Sotak

Apr 27, 2022

Jon, road wear isn’t just based on weight but also on miles driven. In WA we don’t have a tax based on our odometer readings, so the gas tax could be thought of as a stand in. If a vehicle doesn’t use gas, or far less of it, but is still driving the same number of miles there has to be a way for the state to recover the lost revenue from the gas tax which isn’t being paid by the owner.

Frankly, hybrids/EVs are not the best way out of our climate disaster. We should be driving less and have the corresponding infrastructure to encourage that. We’re not there and I have doubts we ever will be. In the meantime, our registration should be based on weight and literal miles driven - and keep the gas tax. An additonal flat tax on hybrids and EVs is a not a good way of doing it, but I understand the logic.

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Jon Humphrey

Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Nicholas. Yes, I meant weight and miles driven. I thought that would be implied with wear since you have to drive to wear out the roads. Still, it’s a good point. We can also talk about other wear problems like micro-rubber created from tires getting into water sources, etc.
Tracking each vehicles odometer readings would be a logistical nightmare. However, perhaps there is room for this. I use the bus and bicycle a lot too. So I’d be happy to submit odometer readings, say in the form of a picture, to the state annually if it resulted in lower registration fees based on actual miles driven. Perhaps a voluntary program that rewarded drivers willing to submit these numbers would be a good idea. Why should someone that only drives 4,000 miles a year pay for a registration based on an average of 10,000 miles? Sure, a VIN would have to be taken to to prevent fraud, etc. What we don’t want is the emissions inspection station nightmare many other places have since the standards are so low in the first place. It’s really a bottleneck that has few benefits to the environment. We can make an argument for stricter emissions standards, but that is another article and EVs don’t emit. Sure, we can talk about mining resources, but that’s another article too.
With that said, basing the tax mostly on gas consumption was always a bad idea as there has been a push for more fuel-efficient vehicles since the 1970s energy crisis especially from a national security standpoint. Sure, there has been a lot of hypocrisy along the way like the “age of the modern muscle car” that is thankfully starting to come to a close, etc. But we all knew we’d eventually get to a point where we’d need more fuel-efficient vehicles.
So there is no logic in punishing the owners of hybrids and electric cars specifically when they’re at least doing something that’s beneficial. Fair would be to charge them the same as other vehicles in their weight class for registration. Also, there are many gas only cars that get about the same mileage as some of the hybrids. Should we charge them a “too efficient and not harmful enough” tax since they buy less gas/diesel too?
An argument of, “if you want nice roads you have to buy more gas/diesel, and eventually starve to death from the emissions” was never a good idea. Legislators must have realized this but since rising gas prices are always unpopular, they found a way to pretend they’re doing the right thing instead of actually doing it. The right thing being a transition away from fossil fuels ASAP and a move to different transit systems that weren’t based so heavily on cars.  
I think the tobacco industry is a good model for a solution here. Washington charges $3.03 in tax for cigarettes because of the great harm they are known to cause to offset heatlhcare costs (or so they say) etc. With an average cost of about $8.03 a pack that means that the tax is about 37% of the cost of the pack. Since gas/diesel are also known to be contributing to the eventual extinction of the species, and harmful to our health, with a current tax of about $0.45 cents per gallon and a gallon of gas being about $4.45 per gallon right now, or only about 10%, then it obviously makes more sense to increase the gas tax. That is if we want to phase to a green economy and have a planet around to make money, or anything else on, in the near future.
Again, hybrids and EVs still only make up about 3% of vehicles on the road, so the amount of additional tax being taken in on them is still pretty small. Overall, the hard truth is that cars/trucks are generally a bad way to get around and always wasteful to some extent. However, some much more than others.
So, I agree with you that we need totally different transportation systems to really address climate change. While the Whatcom Dems. passed their Electric Bus resolution with a unanimous 50-0 vote, we should note that they did meet resistance from other Corporate Dems. along the way and our schools still refuse to buy even one electric bus. In short, we aren’t taking action quickly enough, and trying to tax a resource we are trying to get rid of is a losing battle in the end anyway.
It gives us the illusion of progress when no real progress is being made. It’s the standard play from the establishment playbook. The games being played with broadband are even worse. The PUD, Port, COB, and County refuse to even fund inexpensive, accurate, load testing. They don’t want the real numbers because all they want is to be able to say that they “did something” on the campaign trail and they’re really hoping that citizens aren’t having in-depth discussions about topics like this that could spoil their plans to lie to us on the campaign trail.

 

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