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Texas lawmakers seek gas tax alternative as electric car industry grows

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The test drive is over. Researchers in a new report claim electric vehicles are helping fight global warming. That success also has road-builders and state lawmakers worried.

“Electric cars are putting the brakes on pollution.” That’s the headline from a report released Tuesday by Environment Texas.

"They work, absolutely,” said Luke Metzger, who is the Director for Environment Texas.

You can’t deny the numbers. There are 220,000 plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles currently rolling on American roadways. Adding more, Metzger argues, will help fight global warming.

"Just in Texas alone we could reduce carbon pollution by 1.3 metric tons by 2025," Metzger said.

Tax credits and rebates can reduce sticker shock. For example a $34,000 Chevy Volt could end up costing $24,000. That’s still a bit pricey for some and the savings over a gas guzzler are still a little fuzzy, especially with the uncertainty of future battery replacement costs. Despite that, electric car advocates remain optimistic.

"I think advances in technology, the continued incentives will really help bring down the cost to make it affordable for everyone,” said Metzger.

To boost electric car sales 10 states are now requiring new car dealers to have them on their lots. They include California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

If every state did this, according to the Environment Texas report, by 2025 it’s estimated there could be 3.5 million on the road in the U.S.

The technology is no longer in rear view mirror, it’s here, and as more electric cars hit the roadways that means less gas tax money for TxDOT to build the roads.

To pay for immediate transportation needs, in November voters will consider a Constitutional Ballot Proposition to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. But that idea is only considered a band-aide, according to state Representative Joe Pickett.

"We're buying time, we probably buying six to eight years if this constitutional amendment passes but after that we must find something to supplant what we have now,” said Rep. Pickett (D) El Paso.

Representative Pickett is leading a House Select Committee that’s searching for gas tax alternatives. While Pickett’s committee will meet July 2, a State Senate Committee, which was given the same charge, met Tuesday morning. Some of the options discussed during the Senate Hearing could be hard sells under the capitol dome. They include increasing the fuel tax by a penny to raise $116 million; adding an extra nickel for a gallon of diesel to bring in $142 million; diverting the motor-vehicle rental tax back to TxDOT to provide $220 million and a $10 auto registration fee hike that would also raise $210 million.

"My preference would be to reinvent, that would be my suggestion,” said Pickett.

Reinventing will most likely require cooperation from electric car owners. They currently get a free tax ride, while the gas tax on a typical compact car is about $110 a year. Russ Keene with Plug In Texas agrees it’s time to pay up.

"Maybe that right number is $75, perhaps it’s a sticker or annual fee, at the point of registration,” said Keene.

Change, like the new cars, may be coming, but getting there could be a bumpy ride when the Legislative Session begins in January.

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