Nissan Leaf electric vehicle charging, State Journal photo (copy) (copy)

John Schmoller of Middleton demonstrates the operation of Madison Gas and Electric's electric vehicle quick charger on his Nissan Leaf in August 2013 outside Kelley's Market Mobile at 3859 E. Washington Ave. in Madison. At the time, it was the first public quick charging station in Wisconsin. Lawmakers are currently debating whether to add a new tax on electric and hybrid vehicles to help shore up the state's $1 billion transportation budget shortfall.


A new fee for owners of hybrid and electric vehicles under consideration by lawmakers would affect drivers in the Madison and Milwaukee areas most, according to federal data.

Legislators are more than two months late in passing a new two-year spending plan as Republicans in both houses continue to disagree on how to fund road projects and to shore up a $1 billion shortfall in the state’s transportation budget.

But the idea of imposing a new fee on owners of vehicles that use little or no gasoline has popped up recently as one possible revenue source for Republican lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker — who are divided over whether to borrow more money for road projects.

Their task got harder Thursday, when state Department of Transportation officials said the state received $66.4 million in federal funding — the highest amount the state has ever received — but less than the more than $300 million state officials sought.

The revenue generated from a new $95 annual fee on alternative-fuel vehicles could be enough to make the estimated $8 million annual payments on $100 million in bonding for road projects, according to an Aug. 21 memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, who sits on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

Budget-writing committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Thursday lawmakers are discussing a top fee ranging from $75 to $100 for electric vehicles and a smaller fee for hybrid vehicles. Darling said lawmakers haven’t made a final decision yet on either, however.

Most of the money generated from the fees, if enacted, would come from drivers in Milwaukee, Dane, Waukesha and Winnebago counties, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. The fee would be in addition to the $75 annual registration fee Wisconsin owners of light vehicles typically pay under the idea lawmakers are considering.

Drivers of gas-fueled cars pay 32.9 cents of tax for every gallon of gas purchased. That money goes to maintain roads.

18 states imposed fee

Most of the alternative fuel vehicles in Wisconsin are hybrid-electric, and most of those exist in Milwaukee County, where there are between 150 and 200 such vehicles per five square miles, according to the federal data.

There are between 50 and 60 hybrid-electric vehicles in Dane County per five square miles. In Waukesha County, there are about 40-50 vehicle owners in the same size area and 10-20 vehicle owners in Winnebago County. Those four counties also have the highest number of electric vehicles, according to the data.

If lawmakers pass a new state budget with the new fee, Wisconsin would become the 19th state to impose a hybrid-electric vehicle fee, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures as of July. The fees in other states range from $50 to $200. Some states require higher fees for electric vehicles than hybrid vehicles.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who sits on the budget-writing committee, said the only reason the hybrid fee is being discussed is because the state needs to borrow another $100 million for road projects.

Erpenbach said he wouldn’t support the proposed fee because “it doesn’t fix the problem,” and suggested the committee look at larger vehicles “that really tear up the roads.”

Some lawmakers floated the idea of imposing a tax on heavy trucks in June, but it quickly died because too many Senate Republicans opposed it.

Hintz, who represents a portion of Winnebago County, characterized the idea as Republicans’ answer to “the best way to punt for the next two years” on the state’s transportation shortfall and questioned whether other kinds of road-users who don’t pay gas taxes will be assessed a fee, too, like the Amish, who typically travel via horse and buggy.

“I’m interested in getting behind a comprehensive transportation solution and if we are just trying to nickel and dime selective people as a way to pass another irresponsible budget, I’m not interested,” Hintz said.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, who also sits on the budget-writing committee and represents Waukesha County, said all vehicle owners “who use our roads should be responsible for road maintenance costs. Hybrid and electric vehicles should not be exempt.”

But she added that she would need to see finalized budget language and continue to talk to constituents before knowing what she would ultimately support.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who is the ranking Democrat on the budget-writing committee, said through a spokesman she would not support the fee if proposed.

“Senator Taylor is concerned that this fee is punitive and would be a disincentive toward clean energy vehicles,” spokesman Jordan Krieger said.

Budget-writing committee co-chairs Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Darling said last week that lawmakers on the committee plan to take up the last parts of the budget, including transportation funding, on Tuesday. But Darling said Thursday that the committee’s work could be pushed beyond that.


Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.