Hybrid vehicle tech confuses Louisiana lawmakers as they set road use fees

Senators claim hybrid owners pay zero fuel tax on electric portion of car

By: - June 3, 2022 4:01 pm
Hybrid vehicle tech confuses Louisiana lawmakers as they set road use fees

An electric Porsche Taycan charges at a station in Hammond on Dec. 28, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana senators passed a bill Thursday that would charge road usage fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, but the debate surrounding the proposal revealed some senators may not understand how hybrid vehicles operate. 

House Bill 1031, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, cleared the Senate with a 34-1 vote and was sent back to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments..

As it reads now, the bill would levy an annual road usage fee of $110 for every Louisiana-licensed electric vehicle and $60 for each hybrid vehicle. Louisiana Department of Revenue officials would be in charge of collecting the fees, according to the bill. Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, who presented the legislation on behalf of Freiberg, said this would likely occur through individuals’ state tax returns. 

Motorists pay a fuel tax the state uses to maintain its roadways, and lawmakers are worried those funds will eventually dry up as electric vehicles replace gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. Freiberg’s bill proposes a way to help cover the gap.

However, debate on a late-hour floor amendment Thursday prompted confusion among some senators. 

The change, proposed by Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, would have removed hybrid vehicles from the bill. Cathey tried explaining that hybrid vehicle owners already pay the gasoline tax because hybrids are essentially just very fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles.  

Questioning the amendment, Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, said hybrid vehicle owners pay less in gasoline tax than standard vehicle owners. 

“If the hybrid vehicles get such extreme gas mileage, they will pay literally very little compared to other vehicles,” Peacock said.

Cathey responded: “And I would say a Toyota Camry gets extremely good gas mileage versus a Ford pickup truck like I have … and we don’t charge the guy with the better gas mileage a fee to come operate on the roads.”

Cathey explained that hybrid vehicles still require gasoline to run.

Opposing the amendment, Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, said it would exempt hybrid vehicle owners from paying for the roadways.

Cathey said they are paying for the roads when they purchase gasoline. 

“Only when he’s burning gas, but when he’s running electric, he’s not,” Lambert responded.

In an Illuminator interview, Simon Mahan with the Southern Renewable Energy Association explained hybrids run on a gasoline motor assisted simultaneously by an electric motor. As Cathey said, Mahan confirmed that most hybrids currently available are essentially just efficient gasoline vehicles. The driver doesn’t have a switch or a button to choose between gasoline and electricity, though some cars in the new category of “plug-in hybrids” run on electricity until the batteries are depleted, at which point the gasoline engine serves as a backup and takes over, he said.

However, it’s inaccurate to say all hybrids use less gas than standard gasoline-powered vehicles, Mahan said. There are many hybrids that are far less fuel efficient than gasoline vehicles. The new Chevrolet Silverado hybrid averages only 18-20 mpg. Even the 2018 Lexus GS hybrid, a sedan, averages only 29-34 mpg compared to a full-gasoline 2017 Honda Civic that averages 36-40 mpg, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also opposing the amendment, Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, asked what percentage of gasoline a typical hybrid vehicle uses compared to its percentage of electricity. Luneau said hybrid owners should have to pay a road usage fee because they pay zero tax on the electric component of the vehicle — a statement Cathey disputed. 

“One of us is missing something because if you’re going to charge the people that use all electricity a tax, and you’re going to charge the people that use all gas a tax, but you’re going to cut the tax on people that use a combination,” Luneau said, “that’s unfair, don’t you think?” 

Cathey pointed out the electric motor can only run when it’s powered by the gasoline motor, which Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, assisted Cathey in explaining.

“The gas motor is what charges the electric,” Morris said. “So, when the vehicle is operating electrically…it’s using gas to get the electricity. So they are paying. So you can’t really divide it out because when they’re operating electrically, they are actually operating using gas.”

Cathey’s amendment failed in a 2-33 vote.

The bill is awaiting House concurrence on an earlier committee amendment. If approved, it will head to the governor for consideration.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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