WKYT Investigates | Electric cars and the gas tax

Published: Mar. 8, 2020 at 10:52 PM EDT
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Car charging stations are

, as cars with plugs become more common on pavement across the commonwealth.

That may be good for the environment, but as the number of electric cars continues to rise, some say Kentucky roads are getting the short end of the dipstick.

At issue is the

when drivers fill up their tanks. That money is part of what makes up the state's road fund, responsible in part for paying to


With more cars on the highways not using gas, some say electric car owners are getting a free pass. Yet

to the problem are being criticized for being too punitive and unfair.

So what is the answer? It is not necessarily an easy one, lawmakers told WKYT. And electric car advocates said at the same time that it also takes a balancing act to make sure it is fair and feasible for electric car owners.

For Daniel Monroe, one of those drivers, there is a lot to like about electric cars.

"The gravy is how much fun it is to drive," Monroe said, quickly accelerating in his Tesla with WKYT's Garrett Wymer in the passenger seat. "It's a perk that it's extremely cheap to operate and maintain. I love what it does for the environment. I'm crazy - crazy - about the safety. I could put my 20-something children in this car, and I feel like they're in the safest car that exists."

The difference between gas and electric is big - volts and kilowatts vs. miles per gallon and octane - but to the state it means little until the rubber meets the road.

"How do you capture that market to make sure they're paying their fair share of the wear and tear on the roads?" said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, in an interview inside his capitol annex office.

The state's

, but the largest is the gas tax. The non-profit

says the value of Kentucky's gas tax has eroded over time (for a number of reasons).

And now, more cars on the roads are using less gas or no gas at all -


More than 80 percent of the roughly 3.4 million passenger cars and trucks registered in Kentucky as of December 31 are gas-powered, according to statistics provided by the

. But other percentages are growing. There are more than 34,000 hybrids and roughly 1,500 electric cars.

, Kentucky had only 700 plug-in electric cars, federal statistics show. (You can break down those numbers in this

embedded at the bottom of this page.)

Electric car owners and advocates are concerned about the looming shadow of proposals to change that.

"It needs to be fuel-agnostic," said Lane Boldman of the

. "Everybody needs to pay the fair share for infrastructure, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't over-penalize one user over another."

Many say over-penalizing electric car owners is

have done.


found that existing and proposed electric vehicle fees in 18 states are

for the average new car this year.

A proposal in the Kentucky General Assembly right now,

, would charge electric car owners a highway user fee of at least $200 when they register and when they renew each year. It would also raise the gas tax from 26 to 34.4 cents per gallon and charge an annual "highway preservation fee" to gas-powered cars based on their fuel efficiency.

The bill has been introduced in the House and assigned to the House Appropriations and Revenue committee. (Track the bill

.) Similar proposals in recent years have failed to move forward.

Before that bill was filed in the other chamber, Senate President Robert Stivers told WKYT's Garrett Wymer that whatever plan is proposed should not punish electric car owners and needs to work in whatever a different car-driving future looks like.

"We're going to have to be creative in what we do to try to make sure people have good roads, and maintain good roads and build even bigger, better roads," Stivers said.

That might even take moving away from relying on a gas tax for road revenue.

Members of

, a group of electric car owners, drivers, advocates and enthusiasts, had a variety of ideas at their meeting to generate revenue from electric cars without "punishing" owners of them. Their proposals included a mileage-based and/or weight-based tax; a flat fee applied to everyone equally; adopting fast chargers in rural areas and near other attractions to encourage tourism there, while charging a small fee;


studied transitioning away from the gas tax to a mileage-based tax, but determined it to be not feasible or desirable at this time.

Going forward, finding a solution could be a highly-charged issue, but all involved know it needs to be addressed as society heads full speed toward a future to which many drivers are already navigating.

"This is my forever car," Daniel Monroe, the electric car owner, said of his Tesla. "It's the only car I'll ever have to buy. I've paid it forward."