LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Drivers of electric cars in Kentucky would pay a $100 annual fee meant to buoy the state’s struggling road fund under a bill filed ahead of next month’s legislative session.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said his measure prepares for a possible increase in vehicles that aren’t powered by motor fuels – and, as a result, don’t pay gasoline taxes that support road spending.

“It’s not about just finding new ways to tax the people. This is about fairness,” Bowen said in an interview. “Our tax code, above all else, needs to be fair. If you’re using our highways, roads and streets, you need to pay your fair share.”  

There were 701 electric and hybrid electric vehicles registered in Kentucky in 2014, according to federal data. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates 757 plug-in electric cars have been registered in the state since 2010.

Bowen said he believes less than 300 plug-in vehicles would be affected by his bill.

The state’s Legislative Research Commission estimates that Kentucky loses about $147 annually in state and federal gas tax revenue for each electric car in use. That amounts to about $44,000 a year, based on Bowen’s estimates.

Under the bill, electric car owners would pay the fees when they register their vehicle and renew their registration.

Fuel taxes are the main source of road and highway funding in Kentucky and across the nation, but a generation of fuel-efficient vehicles has strained transportation budgets in recent years. Last year, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill in the closing hours of the General Assembly that kept fuel tax revenue from falling even further.

Even so, the state’s road fund is expected to bring in about $125 million less than expected during the current fiscal year and may not return to 2015 levels until at least 2020.

Eight states have passed laws requiring owners of electric vehicles to pay fees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia’s $200 fee is the highest, while Colorado and Wyoming charge the lowest amounts of $50 per vehicle.

Daryl Cleary, a code enforcement officer for St. Matthews who drives an electric car, said most electric vehicle owners power their cars at home. For example, Cleary said he plugs in his car overnight to get a charge that lasts for roughly 100 miles.

But with a lack of public charging stations in Kentucky, many drivers avoid long trips, said Cleary, director-at-large of Evolve KY, a chapter of the Electric Auto Association.

“To tax a limited-range vehicle on the roads that it can’t use seems excessive,” he said. “However, we are happy to pay our taxes.”

More charging stations could be on the way. LG&E and Kentucky Utilities sought approval from state regulators last month to own and operate 20 stations along streets, in parking lots and in other public places in the Louisville and Lexington areas.

For Kentucky to add more electric vehicles, “there must be an investment in charging stations,” said John P. Malloy, LG&E and KU’s vice president of customer services.

“It is especially important to combat ‘range anxiety’ in which consumers fear the battery range is insufficient to support their driving patterns,” Malloy said in a press release announcing the utilities’ plan.

LG&E and KU have seven electric vehicles in their fleet; the utilities aren’t taking a position on Bowen’s measure, spokeswoman Liz Pratt said.

Steven Lough, president emeritus of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, said drivers aren’t necessarily opposed to paying to help maintain roads, but he questions whether the fees amount to a “regressive tax” that is applied uniformly.

Lough said many owners of electric vehicles travel fewer miles than drivers of gasoline-powered cars, but they’re being asked to pay fees based on more miles driven. Washington State has imposed a $100 annual fee on electric cars.

“It’s not something that is driving anyone away from buying an electric vehicle,” he said.

But Lough said a better approach would be a fee based on total miles traveled. Oregon has introduced a “road usage charge” for some drivers, but other states have balked at passing similar legislation.

In fact, Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, suggested last week that Bowen keep such options in mind.

“We have increasingly efficient vehicles and we’re going to -- unless we multiply the number of vehicles on the road -- we’re going to reduce our revenue that goes to build roads and maintain roads,” Floyd said during a meeting of the General Assembly’s interim joint committee on transportation.

At the meeting, Bowen told Floyd that he was limiting his bill, BR 61, to the fee on electric vehicles. Bowen told WDRB News that he hadn’t yet spoken to legislative leaders about the measure’s prospects.

But at some point, he said, Kentucky needs to prepare for more electric vehicles, including heavier trucks.

“It’s about what’s coming down the pike. We need to address it now.”

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