After Georgia officials removed a tax credit for zero emission vehicles, replacing it with a road-use fee and a luxury car tax break, some residents said they are considering a lawsuit.
Previously, Georgia had presented itself as one of the bigger supporters of zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs), offering residents a $5,000 tax credit for qualifying vehicles. Atlanta even became a nationwide leader of Nissan Leaf sales.
Instead, the state’s newly approved Transportation Funding Act of 2015 removed the “Alternative Fuel” tax credit and added an annual $200 road-use fee for all ZEV and electric vehicle (EV) owners. The new policy will take effect on July 1.
ZEV owners and supporters are stepping forward to say this new legislation unfairly targets “green” vehicles, and are considering suing the state to have it overturned.
“We will challenge the state for discriminating against electric vehicles, for arbitrarily creating a fee without any scientific or economical due diligence,” said Michael Beinenson, president of the EV Club of the South.
Beinenson said that while some type of road-use fee is understandable, a yearly $200 bill is excessive. According to his estimates, this fee will be equivalent to the new gas tax that an SUV owner will pay (assuming 12,000 miles driven per year).
“Why am I penalized for driving a clean vehicle with domestically produced energy? I have to pay like it’s a Chevy Suburban,” Beinenson said. “This fee is affecting our well-being and it’s going to affect our finances.”
Others, including Atlanta Electric Vehicle Development Coalition founder Jeff Cohen, have also voiced their support for legal action. Cohen is estimating that if the disappearing tax credit and new road-use fee are not amended, consumers will stop buying ZEVS.
“Georgians bought 10,500 EVs in 2014 and I would forecast that number again for 2015, if not higher,” Cohen explained. “[Next year] will be the tell-tale year when EV sales will fall off dramatically and EV drivers make decisions about dumping their cars.”
Unlike other states that are grappling with budget shortfalls, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Georgia isn’t complaining about a lack of funds. In fact, the spending plan for next fiscal year (beginning July 1) totals $21.7 billion, an increase of $900 million over the previous budget. Included in the additional funds is $23 million to help finish parking areas near the Atlanta Falcons stadium.
But few of these extra dollars will be allocated for transportation projects. According to The Atlantic, Georgia is “49th in the nation in per capita transportation funding, and Atlanta’s commutes are famously terrible.”
Which is why legislators such as Sen. Brandon Beach say a change is necessary.
“[ZEVs] are putting wear and tear on our roads and not paying anything while the people in traditional gasoline vehicles are paying taxes,” Beach said. “We thought that was a fair compromise [and] we think $200 is a fair number.”
Beach may be overstepping with this statement, however, as not all Georgia legislators that support a road-use fee think $200 is an acceptable amount. This includes Rep. Chuck Martin, who originally introduced the legislation to remove the ZEV tax credit.
“The $200 fee was not my suggestion at all and I didn’t vote for the bill,” said Martin. “Just comparing the fee to the amount of fuel excise tax that is paid by a normal car, I would agree, that seems high.”
For now, Georgians have about six weeks to take advantage of the tax credit before it disappears. And even though there isn’t consensus on the amount, ZEV owners will begin paying $200 a year starting in July. If lawsuits do arise to contest this policy, it will most likely be many months before legal action will begin.