Many argue reducing pollution is worth more than road funds that would have been raised.
Showing how important reducing air pollution now is to Utah lawmakers, the House voted 44-27 on Monday to kill a bill that had sought to impose up to a five-fold increase on registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles.
The proposed hike “disincentivizes behavior by drivers that has a significant impact on our air quality,” said Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City.
“When we talk about clean air, for me, it’s personal,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “When we had inversions in December, my wife could not go outside because she had a hard time breathing. … My wife is not alone. There are thousands of people on the Wasatch Front who are having a hard time breathing.”
Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, had proposed the fee increases by arguing that electric cars and hybrids now totally or largely escape gasoline taxes that fund road maintenance. So, he said the proposed registration fee hikes would force them to pay more of what he says is their fair share.
“Why should gas vehicle owners continue to subsidize the road maintenance for electric vehicles?” he asked. He said even with the increases, owners of clean-fuel vehicles would still pay much less in taxes for roads than gasoline cars. Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, estimated the savings at $193 a year.
Registration fees for plug-in hybrids (such as a Chevy Volt or PHEV) originally would have quintupled under the legislation, from $52 to $260, but Christofferson lowered that to $180 to try to save the bill.
And fees for hybrid electric vehicles (such as a Prius) initially would have risen from $20 to $50, up 150% — but Christofferson discarded that entirely as he tried to rally support.
Several lawmakers also argued that only 2% of the vehicles now on Utah roads are electric or hybrids, so raising fees on them would not help raise much for roads anyway.
That “makes me question if the juice is worth the squeeze on this one,” said Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden.
Also, several lawmakers noted that raising fees may be premature because the Legislature has ordered the Utah Department of Transportation to provide a plan by this June about how to completely replace the gasoline tax in 10 years by shifting to a “road user charge,” where drivers pay a fee for every mile they drive. They said it may find ways to fund roads without fees that discourage clean-air vehicles.