Gas tax collections may have exceeded state expectations this year, but some state legislators say they're still not high enough to support statewide road and highway repairs.
"Our gasoline tax doesn't generate what it used to," said State Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks.
That's why Kreun plans to discuss a new registration fee for electric vehicles during the next legislative session.
"They use the road," Kreun said of electric cars, "but they're not paying a road tax. Road taxes are only through the gasoline tax."
Kreun recalled hearing the idea at a transportation conference he attended in Winnipeg with other state legislators.
"It's kind of a fairness issue," Kreun said. "I hate to add cost to anything, but yet, if you want to drive, you have to pay for the roads."
State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he went to the same conference and agreed that North Dakota needs new ways to pay for its roads, although he's skeptical electric cars will bring much revenue.
"There is an old saying in politics," Holmberg said. "'You don't poke a beehive unless you're going to get some honey out of it.' There would be a huge uproar if you were going to tax the electric vehicles, and the amount of money you would get, is it worth all the buzzing of the bees?"
According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 246 electric vehicles registered in the state during 2017. NDDOT had no accurate numbers on hybrid vehicles that use both gas and electricity, it said, because they're harder to classify.
NDDOT is not looking into any new fees at this time, said Strategic Innovations Manager Linda Sitz.
"Anything with any type of fees, the Legislature would definitely have to have some type of review," Sitz said. "But if the Legislature suggested it and wanted to implement it, the DOT would definitely support that decision."
Both Kreun and Holmberg agreed the gas tax and road funding will come up in the next session.
"But it has to be part of a broad discussion about how to get enough money to pay for the roads," Holmberg said. "I don't think there would be enthusiasm in North Dakota for paying by the mile. I think, culturally, North Dakota is not a state that would be excited about putting tolls on the state highway system, and again, the electric vehicle, that's not a great moneymaker."
If legislators decide to create a registration fee for electric vehicles, Sitz said the department would need even more time to plan.
"The DOT would have to analyze exactly how that fee would be implemented," Sitz said. "How to apply it, what section of code it falls underneath, where it would fit."
"And we would definitely want input from everybody in the state on that," she added, "when it gets ready to be testified on or brought forward."