Senate GOP proposes highest-in-nation fee on electric cars

While opposing Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed tax and fee increases for transportation projects, Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate have found a fee they can live with: a surcharge on electric and hybrid cars.

At $250, Minnesota would impose the highest-in-the-nation fee on electric cars under the Senate’s transportation omnibus bill released Tuesday. The state’s current annual surcharge on electric cars is $75. Hybrid drivers would face a new surcharge of $125.

“They should be paying their share of the equivalent of a gas tax, which is exactly what the Constitution says,” state Sen. Scott Newman, the Senate Transportation committee chairman. “As of right now, we have electric cars on the road that don’t pay any gas tax at all.”

Asked about the Senate GOP proposal, Walz joked about the Republicans’ previous unwillingness to raise any taxes or fees for transportation.

“They’re proposing an increased fee?” Walz said. “I thought they took a ‘no fee increase’ pledge or something.”

The Democratic governor said he was open to considering the extra surcharge, saying – as Newman did – that some drivers currently don’t pay any gas tax.

“I actually think that’s a valid point,” Walz said. “If they’re debating all those things, I applaud them on this. I think that’s the right way to look at it. I certainly hope it’s done in the right vein and not an attempt to take a swipe at electric vehicles.”

Newman said the surcharge was the only fee increase in the Senate’s transportation omnibus bill. It will raise a small fraction compared with Walz’s proposal, which calls for a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase, registration tab increases, and a higher tax on vehicle purchases.

Republicans have said all of Walz’s proposed increases are nonstarters with them.

“I don’t think he’s left us in a position where we’ve got much to talk about,” Newman said. He said that Senate Republicans and Walz are “eons” apart in transportation funding.

MnPASS restrictions, light rail prohibition

The Senate’s plan includes policy provisions with impacts for drivers and transit users in the Metro. It would:

•    Require vehicles to have three occupants before using MnPASS lanes, up from the current two
•    Prohibit the state from spending money on light rail or a Twin Cities-to-Duluth passenger rail line
•    Ban the state from using highway trunk funding for bike lanes
•    Subject ‘slowpoke’ drivers to fines for lingering in the left lane on the highway, and allow drivers to legally speed up to pass on the highway
•    Restrict the testing of autonomous vehicles on public streets

Newman said the MnPASS restriction was an attempt to reduce congestion, but state Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher said it would only increase the number of vehicles in regular traffic lanes.

The largest battle remains over funding for infrastructure projects. Walz’s administration has said the state will need $18 billion in additional revenue over the next decade, while the Senate plan calls for significantly less spending.

“Without additional investment, our aging infrastructure will suffer,” Kelliher told lawmakers Tuesday. “And most importantly, the Minnesotans we all serve will suffer more.”

Metropolitan Council officials said that the Senate’s transportation bill would lead to difficult funding decisions between service for disabled riders, regular bus service, light rail and commuter rail.

“The proposal would not only impede the need to build out our system, it will eventually lead to cuts in our entire bus service,” Met Council Chairwoman Nora Slawik said.