By Ryan Beene and Dana Hull
Oklahoma’s bid to help close a budget shortfall with a new $100 fee on electric vehicles drew a court challenge from the Sierra Club, which argues the state didn’t follow the correct procedures for enacting a tax or properly measure the benefits of having those cars on the road.
Under a bill signed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin in May, hybrid vehicle owners would also face a $30 registration fee, but gasoline and diesel engines didn’t get hit with a new levy. On Tuesday, the state’s Supreme Court heard arguments in a separate lawsuit filed in June to block the measure.
Johnson Bridgewater, director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter, said the fee is in effect a new tax, which must receive support by a supermajority of state lawmakers under state law. That didn’t happen, he said. He also said the fee was set arbitrarily and without consideration of the benefits, such as savings from fewer pollution-related deaths.
“These are tangible benefits that they are completely ignoring,” Bridgewater said in an interview.
The bill was one of several new revenue-raising measures to be challenged in court since they were passed in a scramble to plug an $878 million budget shortfall. Oklahoma Representative Dustin Roberts, a Republican who authored the bill, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Several states from California to Maryland offer financial incentives, carpool lane access and other privileges to electric car buyers to boost demand for the vehicles, which still occupy a sliver of the U.S. auto market. Sales are forecast to grow in the coming years as companies such as Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co. introduce electric cars like the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt that are more affordable and offer larger driving ranges than earlier electric vehicles on the market.
Environmental groups and carmakers alike have called on governments to bolster incentives to support consumer demand for electric vehicles.
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday morning in a separate lawsuit against the fee, which was brought by Republican gubernatorial candidate and Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson. The suit argues that measure, along with two others, runs afoul of the state’s legal requirements for legislation that raises revenue.
The bill would raise an estimated $1 million annually and help fund highway construction and maintenance. Roughly 26,600 hybrids, 800 plug-in electric vehicles and 1,300 low- and medium-speed electrics are owned in the state and would be subject to the fees, according to an analysis by state lawmakers.
Able Blakley is one of them. The 36-year-old owner of the Savory Spice Shop in Oklahoma City and his wife drive a Nissan Leaf electric car and a hybrid Lincoln.
“If they really want to create more revenue for building roads, they should charge a fee based on gross vehicle weight,” Blakley said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But this is Oklahoma, where everybody drives a big pickup truck.”