Regardless of the car type, what we are doing is a set fee. Every car impacts the roads in the same way, and we need to recognize that or we will not have roads to drive on. —Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville
SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican lawmaker is being blasted by Utah Democratic Party officials who say his bill to increase registration fees for electric cars and other alternative fuel vehicles does nothing to help clean up the air.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said the criticism is baseless. SB139, he said, is about road maintenance and fairness.
"This does nothing to disrespect the importance of alternative fuel vehicles or the importance of air quality," Harper said. "These cars are still having the same impact as other vehicles, but they do not have to pay for the wear and tear on our roads."
Matt Lyon, Utah Democratic Party executive director, said the bill sends the wrong message.
“It is despicable, in our current air crisis and given all the rhetoric on clean air, that the Utah GOP would even entertain a piece of legislation aimed at raising taxes on low-emission vehicles," Lyon said.
Harper said his Democratic critics are missing the point, noting that his measure goes hand in hand with HB74, sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, which significantly bumps the state tax credit for electric vehicles to $2,500 or for qualifying plug-in hybrids to $1,250.
Harper said it would take about 20 years of the increase in the fees to offset the state tax credit.
He added that the fee increases for the alternative-style vehicles are figured based on a formula that looks at what the typical owner of a gas- or diesel-engine pays per year in gas taxes at the pump. That money is split 70 percent to the state and 30 percent to local entities to support road repairs and maintenance.
"Regardless of the car type, what we are doing is a set fee. Every car impacts the roads in the same way, and we need to recognize that or we will not have roads to drive on," Harper said.
But Lyon later responded that the reasoning doesn't make sense.
"Should your doctor give you a coupon for McDonald's alongside a prescription to lower your blood pressure? Utah is in an air quality crisis, and Republicans should not be in the business of discouraging the purchase of low-emission vehicles — period,” he said
Clean air advocates also chimed in with their displeasure.
“His bill to financially punish people who purchase cleaner cars couldn't be more counterproductive," said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.