Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) The Transportation Interim Committee passed two draft bills on fees for electric vehicles in the state during its final meeting of the interim on Tuesday.

The two bills, one related to an annual fee on registered electric vehicles in the state and the other a tax at electric vehicle charging stations, akin to a gas tax. Both will be introduced during the upcoming legislative session and carried by Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis.

A third bill that would have required electric vehicles to have a highway-use decal for both short- and long-term drivers in the state died in committee.

Committee Chair Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said that as this is a new topic, it will likely take several sessions to pass through the Legislature.

“It’s probably unlikely that it would pass the first time around but there is a value to submitting bills for the purpose of education,” Sands said, adding that this topic is especially complicated.

The impetus behind these bills is to replace revenue from a gas tax, which covers road maintenance in the state, lost from electric vehicles, which are expected to double in sales in the U.S. by 2024, according to the committee’s final report. As of January 2022, electric vehicles make up less than one percent of light-duty vehicles in the state.

During public comment for the charging station tax bill concerns were raised over the possibility of “double taxation” at charging stations.

“So if there are some pre-existing tax on electric usage, and then this tax has been later layered on top, to us as double taxation, and that’s something that we would oppose,” said Josh Fisher with lobbying group Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

Fisher said that the fees on electric vehicles were supposed to replace lost gas tax revenue, “So you could also argue that this is another fee on top of it, so again, you’re getting double taxation.”

Petroleum sales in the state deal with about 130 licensed distributors, according to Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Transportation Larry Flynn. He said that this bill would take the format from a simplistic model where the department deals with people who are in the business of selling fuel, collecting the money for the department and sending it in, to a model working with countless retail stores.

“You’re not dealing with gas stations anymore. You might be dealing with coffee shops or bed and breakfasts or hotels or grocery stores or what have you, people that are not in the business of providing these services, but do so kind of as a sideline,” Flynn said.

Flynn said he loved the concept but didn’t feel it was ready for prime time.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality submitted their finalized electric vehicle infrastructure deployment plan to the Federal Highway Administration in late July to establish a charging station framework for the state using federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year. The plan was approved in September, according to Dan Lloyd from DEQ during the meeting.

The committee passed a final report on the committee’s work during the interim, a draft of which can be found online.