ST. GEORGE — A bill that would have increased state registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles failed to pass the Utah House.
In a 44-27 vote, the House put the brakes on Vehicle Registration Fee Revisions, designated HB 209 in the 2021 Legislature. Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, the sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was aimed at getting the owners of electric and hybrid cars in the state to “pay their fair share” for road infrastructure maintenance.
The state’s transportation infrastructure is largely funded through vehicle registration fees and the state’s gas tax – a tax that has seen less yield over the years due the rollout of more fuel efficient vehicles.
While the drivers of gas-powered vehicles – which account for 98% of the vehicles on Utah roads – still pay for road maintenance through the gas tax, people who own electric and hybrid vehicles largely escape paying that tax, Christofferson said.
Some House representatives argued that raising the registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles would deter people from buying them in the future. They also added it could upset efforts to promote improving the state’s air quality through discouraging the adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles.
Originally, Kay’s bill would have raised registration fees between $50 and $300 on electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, gas-electric hybrid vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles. Prior to the final vote on the bill on Feb. 22, an amendment lowering those fees was adopted.
In the original version of the bill, registration fees on electric vehicles – such as Telsa-brand vehicles, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Bolt – would have jumped from $120 to $300. The revision introduced Feb. 22 put that at $240 instead.
Plug-in hybrid vehicle registration, for vehicles such as the Kia Niro and Chevrolet Volt, would go from $52 to $260. The revised amount was set at $180.
Hybrid electric vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, would increase from $20 to $50. Under the revision, the registration fee remained at $20.
Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, said he initially opposed the bill due to the large hike in fees. However, under the revised fee schedule, he said it “strikes the right balance.”
Christofferson added that electric and hybrid car users were likely going to get a 40-50% tax credit on their registration fees compared the annual amount regular drivers pay through the state’s gas tax.
Even though electric and hybrid cars make up less than 2% of the cars on the road right now, Christofferson said his bill was a preparatory measure for when that number increased.
“We’re just trying to solve the problem of when they do (increase) and how we pay for the road maintenance and improvement,” he said.
Other members of the House, like Rep. Steve Wakdrip, R-Eden, said the Legislature should wait on the release of data from the Road Usage Charge pilot program being conducted by the Utah Department of Transportation before moving on the bill. Data from the pilot program is expected to rollout this summer.
“We know that better solutions are mere months ahead of us,” Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said of the Road Usage Charge study as she spoke in opposition to the bill.
UDOT’s Road Usage Charge pilot program, which is voluntary, currently charges 1.5 cents per mile for an electric vehicle, putting the break-even point at around 8,000 miles driven in a year. Being part of the program is considered to be cheaper than the registration fee hike Christofferson proposes through HB 209.
Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said HB 209 would help incentivize electric and hybrid car owners to get onto the pilot program, as they would likely pay less.
“The more you drive, the more you pay. The less you drive, the less you pay,” he said.
Prior to the finally vote, Christofferson said UDOT’s Road Usage Charge report wasn’t going to be some “magic report” that fixed everything, let alone address the registration fee question. He also stressed that the state should address the issue of increasing electric and hybrid car use sooner rather than later.
“We need to something now,” he said.
Despite Christofferson’s call for support, HB 209 failed in a 44-27 vote.
Southern Utah Reps. Phil Lyman, Travis Seegmiller, Rex Shipp and V. Lowry Snow voted against the bill. Rep. Walt Brooks, voted in favor of HB 209, while Rep. Brad Love was absent for the vote.
The 2021 general legislative session ends Thursday.
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Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.
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