Allow sales tax break for electric cars to expire

As part of a broader package of proposals to be announced soon to address climate change, Gov. Jay Inslee wants to extend a sales tax break for those who purchase electric cars and open up car-pool lanes to the vehicles when they’re driven solo.

The intent is to encourage the sales of the zero-emission vehicles, not only to help clear the air of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, but as increased sales of the vehicles help bring down their purchase price, making the vehicles more affordable to more motorists.

Both goals are worthy, but the sales tax break is too costly and likely doesn’t have the impact it first had in introducing electric cars to everyday motorists. And adding more exemptions to the high-occupancy vehicle lane — as the state considers allowing a toll option for more lanes — is defeating their original purpose as an incentive to those who share the ride or take public transit.

If the break is extended past its July 1 expiration, it represents a $13 million loss in tax revenues in fiscal year 2016 and $17 million the following year, according to estimates by the state Department of Revenue. This isn’t the time to be subtracting tax revenue from the state coffers.

Washington, as the Associated Press reported Friday, is among the leading states for electric vehicle ownership, which begs the question as to whether the incentive is necessary.

Those who buy electric cars can have a number of reasons for doing so, including driving past gas stations, a sense of accomplishment for not adding to the carbon dioxide load and the boost to one’s environmental cred.

The state is already encouraging the use of electric vehicles by installing more charging stations along I-5, I-90 and even U.S. 2 and encouraging builders to include charging stations in their projects.

A break in the sales tax certainly adds to the pros, but would its absence keep anyone from buying an electric?

The vehicles, which range in price from $29,000 for the Nissan Leaf to $70,000 and more for the Tesla Model S, are affordable primarily to those who will have little difficulty in paying the full sales tax.

The case can be made that electric car owners are already getting a break beyond the sales tax credit. They, of course, pay no gas tax. As the state eventually looks for a way to replace gas tax revenue with something that charges drivers by miles driven rather than the gallons consumed, electric car owners will have to join the rest of us in the upkeep or our roads and bridges.

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