One of the ironies of modern life is that solving one problem sometimes creates another.
Electric vehicles are becoming the new, new thing. There are more than 50,000 registered in Illinois.
The trend is clearly good for the environment because it means there’s less gasoline being consumed.
But less gasoline being sold means a reduction in motor fuel taxes paid, a decline that will eventually cause problems in financing road and highway repairs and construction.
That’s why the Illinois Economic Policy Institute is warning that the state may need to find a new way to tax motorists that relies on miles driven rather than gasoline consumed.
The issue has already attracted the attention of Gov. JB Pritzker. A spokesman for the governor noted he has not proposed a “vehicle mileage tax” but is watching to see what other states are doing to address what’s likely to become a nationwide issue.
In 2021, legislators passed a bill that established a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by the end of the decade.
Meeting that goal would require more dramatic increases than heretofore seen, about 120,000 additional EVs per year. That may seem like a stretch. But considering the emphasis vehicle manufacturers have placed on EVs, who’s to say it won’t happen?
At any rate, meeting the goal would cost the state more than $700 million in sales and gas taxes plus another $1.1 billion in federal funds. That money is being counted on to help finance capital infrastructure plans already in place.
Motor fuel taxes are easy to levy. Just fold the taxes into the price of a gallon of gasoline, and it’s done.
A vehicle mileage tax would be a different story. Who keeps the mileage records, and how will it be done? Past proposals have raised questions about government intrusiveness into people’s movements.
How large will the tax be? Who pays – the owner of the car, or the driver?
Those are just a couple issues that could arise.
It’s fortunate that there’s time to watch and learn from others.
In the meantime, here’s another issue that might push the timeline back.
Millions of motorists driving electric vehicles will necessitate that charging stations become as ubiquitous as gas stations. Further, the slow process of charging will have to become as efficient as filling up a gas tank.
If either of those issues is not addressed properly, EVs might not remain the new, new thing for long.
There’s no reason, of course, to think people won’t figure out solutions to the problem caused by prior solutions. But it does give everyone something to think about as human ingenuity continues to blaze new trails.