Editorial: Charge for miles, not efficiency

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Everyone, or one might even say every living thing, benefits from the transition away from fossil fuels in favor of electric vehicles. The federal government considers the shift important enough that it grants a hefty tax credit to buyers of electric vehicles. Last fall, during National Drive Electric Week, electric vehicles were displayed in front of the State House. Now people inside the State House are considering legislation to levy a tax on the owners of fuel-efficient vehicles and charge those who get the best mileage the most. Something’s wrong with that plan, not to mention that it’s a dead end.

The goal of what the bill’s sponsors call a fee, to be paid when a vehicle is registered, is to offset the loss of road maintenance revenue that occurs when vehicles burn less, or in the case of all-electric vehicles, no gas or diesel fuel. Roads and bridges of course need maintenance and haven’t been getting enough of it. New Hampshire’s transportation department says about one-third of the state’s roads are in poor to very poor shape.

The gas tax no longer raises enough money to keep the roads in good repair. As more and more motorists switch to hybrid gas-electric or all-electric vehicles, the problem will worsen. Estimates of the growth in the rate at which electric vehicles and hybrids – some now get 80 to 100 miles per gallon – will replace gas burners are just that, estimates. The rate will be influenced by improvements in battery cost and technology, an increase in charging stations, the fate of federal subsidies and other factors. One estimate from the International Monetary Fund predicted that by 2040 more than 90 percent of the world’s vehicles would be electric. That estimate seems wildly optimistic to us, but then Norway announced that it plans to ban the sale of gas or diesel cars by 2025.

No fee, not even the $100 to $200 the bill calls for adding to current vehicle registration fees, will offset lost gas tax revenue when the percentage of electric vehicles on the road hits double digits. Raise the fuel-efficiency fee too high and add it to already sky-high auto registration fees, and paycheck-to-paycheck vehicle owners won’t be able to pay it. Lawmakers should scrap the misguided effort to fill the potholes with fuel-efficiency fees in favor of a system based on miles traveled, a statistic the state receives every time a vehicle is inspected. It would be fairer, both to drivers doing less to pollute the planet and to the many people in an aging state who need a vehicle but log fewer miles behind the wheel.