Voices


Proposed fee dims spark to go green

SATURDAY, MAY 7, 2011

Let’s say you go green.

I don’t mean superhero green or sick-to-your-stomach green, but green as in the environment.

You start thinking, really thinking, that the future of travel is electric or hybrid vehicles. There’s plenty of sound reasoning behind this decision. Besides, the handwriting’s on the wall and all over the blasted gas pumps.

You take the plunge, an expensive one I might add, live with the inconvenience of finding plug-in stations, monitor your distance, and tweak your life. But you know it’s good because it’s as obvious as the defunct gas station on the corner: this is the mode of transportation to come. You’re feeling pretty darn good, no longer grimacing at the gas pump like so many others and helping the environment to boot.

Then Washington state and its wise-taxers sense a change in the gas winds. More and more residents are taking a serious look at electric vehicles and beginning to buy them – when they become available, that is – and politicians, as is typical, start thinking about money, specifically tax money. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, did just that.

Currently, Washingtonians who drive 12,000 miles a year contribute approximately $200 to road maintenance through gas taxes. Apparently this got Haugen thinking: What would happen if gas taxes cease to roll in because more and more people are going green? And since the gas tax is proof positive politicians can squeeze blood from 6,753,369 Washington turnips, she proposed a $100 annual fee on electric car owners.

Now the oil companies, who have regulated, demanded, sequestered and basically run our lives since the birth of the combustible engine, are also getting nervous. Fossil fuel, as they know it, is doomed to extinction like the dinosaurs that left behind the Texas tea, and to earn even more money over the bazillions they’ve already made before their oil empires topple, they start pushing up the price for the bubblin’ crude.

Then the gas station owners, who are feeling the tottering of this gaseous empire, start making noises and before you know it, that electric car is costing double just to charge the dang thing up. On top of that, the state is charging a gas fee even though you’re not using gas.

First they want us to go green; then they want us to turn green. What up with that?

The proposed $100 annual fee, also known as Senate Bill 5251, passed on March 29. Proponents contend those who have gone green but still use the roadways must make up the loss of road maintenance revenue that’s generated from taxes paid at the gas pump. Electric-vehicle owners must pay their fair share, they cry.

Opponents acknowledge that although electric vehicles use the roadways, their carbon tread mark is much lower. Since several current vehicle models top out at 35 mph, they’re unsuitable for highway travel. In reality, the annual fee they pay will go to roads they don’t use.

Suggestions have been made to base the fee on miles traveled, vehicle weight, battery pack size or a combination. There’s also concern that the $100 fee will be a disincentive to those considering making the switch.

While the politicians in Olympia wrangle about how and whether to appropriate the $100 fee fairly among the state’s current 1,316 electric-vehicle owners (with nothing being said about hybrid cars that use both electric and gas), the drive to rid the American public of gas-guzzlers and dependency on foreign oil comes to another fork in the road. Which direction we take depends on how much Big Oil rules the roost and how much Washington state foresees the future of clean and efficient travel.

One thing’s certain – the tax people cometh and they sure don’t leaveth you alone.

 

Reach Spokane Valley resident Sandra Babcock at sandi30@comcast.net.


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