An open letter to Gov. Jay Inslee

I have some concerns about the way that taxes are being levied against owners of electric vehicles.

I have recently acquired a used Nissan Leaf to replace my internal-combustion engine vehicle. I opted to do this replacement specifically because I don’t drive particularly much, and I wanted to reduce my environmental impact primarily for maintaining a vehicle that I only drive minimally.

It is very rare that I drive even 1000 miles in any particular year, and usually it’s more on the order of 250-500 miles. As such, I was typically buying around $50 worth of fuel in a year, as an upper estimate.

So imagine my surprise when I got my first car registration tab, and was on the hook for $150/year in a gas tax offset! Given that the Washington State gas tax is assessed at a rate of around 13% of the cost of fuel, that’s a personal increase of around 2200% for me.

On top of that, the additional $75/year surcharge for building and maintaining more EV infrastructure is a bit shortsighted. I definitely believe that EV infrastructure should be developed, but it should be as an incentive for people to switch to EVs — meaning that it should be assessed to drivers of internal-combustion vehicles, not those of us who have already invested in making the switch. Or, at the very least, should be applied to the vehicle registration fees for everyone.

This infrastructure fee is even more concerning when the proposed charging costs will be the same as the commercial stations, the reason given being that they do not want to compete with private enterprise. In that case, why even bother providing a public infrastructure option, instead of simply encouraging more private charging stations to open up, or encouraging individuals to make their infrastructure available to others on services such as PlugShare?

The current tax structure is actually disincentivizing people from making a switch to electric vehicles, and only puts even more of a burden on those of us who have decided to help the planet.

Just to be clear, I do absolutely agree that those of us with EVs need to pay our fair share in maintaining road infrastructure. But it needs to be a fair share.

Thank you for your consideration.

Updates, since a lot of folks have been responding with the same few points through various channels:

  • Yes, I realize that the gas tax is to fund public infrastructure, and that with me driving an EV they need to get that revenue somehow. I am not disputing this. What I’m disputing is the level of revenue that they’ve decided on as a typical gas tax offset. A much better approach would be to assess based on actual miles driven (which, frankly, a fuel tax is also not a great proxy for either).

    For reference, the 2016 Mazda 3 I replaced with my 2018 Nissan Leaf had around 5400 miles on it when I did so. That’s an average of around 1000 miles per year, but most of those miles were put on when I first bought the thing and took a couple of long road trips. I’m definitely not going to be doing that sort of driving in a Leaf, which has 120 miles of range and takes over an hour to recharge after reaching that limit.

  • Yes, I am in favor of having rich EV owners paying more than their fair share, because that’s as close as we’re going to get on a progressive revenue basis like this. However, not all EV owners are rich, especialy since older EVs are available incredibly cheaply, and even new EVs are getting competitive with similar internal combustion vehicles. For example, a brand-new base spec Nissan Leaf costs around $27,400 before the $7500 tax credit (i.e. around $20K all-in), compared to a brand-new base spec Toyota Corolla Hatchback at $20,915.

    My used 2018 Nissan leaf cost me only $1,000 after the tradein for my 2016 Mazda 3.

    In the past, the State of Washington used a progressive tab fee based on the fair market value of the vehicle being registered. That seems like a much better approach in general for this purpose.

  • The public EV charger infrastructure tax is supposed to make more infrastructure available to EV drivers, as an incentive to drive EV adoption. It would make much more sense if the bill were footed by every car, not just EVs, meaning it could be a much lower tax for everyone and also would provide such an incentive. Further, these public charging stations are going to cost the same amount per kWh as private charging stations (because they do not want to compete with private charging infrastructure), and they’re only building the chargers in very specific, select locations; wouldn’t it make more sense to instead incentivize commercial property owners to add more charging stations in their already-existing parking lots, and to incentivize EV owners to share their private infrastructure through PlugShare?

  • I actually personally do not mind paying these taxes, as I am financially well-off and I can certainly afford this. My concern is that this is only disincentivizing people from switching from internal-combustion cars to electric vehicles en masse, including people who would financially benefit from switching to an EV otherwise.

Unfortunately, large parts of Washington State are still incredibly car-dependent, and that’s not changing anytime soon. Switching to EVs where possible is an amazing form of harm reduction. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does prevent many existing problems from getting worse. We need to be encouraging people to switch if they can, not further penalizing them for making that switch!


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