Guest Post: The Inside View of Washington State’s Proposed Electric Car Perks

Here at Transport Evolved, we like to cover legislative issues which could affect cleaner, greener, safer and smarter transportation, be they proposals which could make life easier for someone seeking to buy a cleaner, greener car or ones which seek to end current tax credits and restrict direct-to-customer sales practices. 

Usually, we have to provide the salient points from 50,000 feet — and several thousand miles away — but last week when we heard that the state of Washington is considering a number of new bills designed to encourage and assist the adoption of plug-in vehicles, we knew exactly who to turn to for an in-depth analysis. 

Washingtonian electric car owners feel passionately about their cars. This was taken when anti-tesla language was written into proposed legislation last year. It was removed following protest of Tesla owners and advocates.

Washingtonian electric car owners feel passionately about their cars. This was taken when anti-tesla language was written into proposed legislation last year. It was removed following protest of Tesla owners and advocates.

Enter Jeff Finn, a long-time electric car driver who has been driving his self-converted 2000 Metro EV for the past seven years and who has served from 2008 through 2014 as the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association’s volunteer Legislative Issues Coordinator. In 2013, Jeff joined the Board of Plug in America, a well-known electric vehicle advocacy and education group, in order to develop a program which uses its resources to support state level electric vehicle legislative advocacy efforts. 

With an extensive knowledge of the matter at hand, Jeff has written the following guest post giving us all a better undestanding of where Washington state currently is — and where it is trying to go.

We know that this kind of in-depth reporting is not to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to know what elected officials are up to, you’ll want to read on. – Ed. 

It’s a really great year for the introduction of bills in the Washington State Legislature which promote the adoption of electric vehicle technology.

How it was

It is a far cry from 2009 when I remember it was like pulling hen’s teeth to find an EV bill sponsor and then get the bill scheduled for consideration by the appropriate committee. That was when my State Representative Deb Eddy introduced her EV related bill because, as she quipped, she was “pressured into it by a constituent who is an electric car nut.” Rep. Eddy introduced her bill in anticipation of a new crop of electric vehicles coming to market during the following year. In applying the KISS principle, her bill merely designated electricity as a clean fuel thus making EVs eligible for the State’s existing Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption and available to help meet the State’s mandate that the majority of vehicles in the State’s and local government jurisdiction’s fleets must be powered by clean fuels.

Electric cars haven't always been so happily supported by the state.

Washington State’s EV support has existed for many years, but in the early days it wasn’t easy.

It was an exciting time when those of us advocating for EVs in Washington. Having had the experience of driving EVs ourselves, we mistakenly believed in the “build it and they will come” theory. We could only envision an EV future where consumers would snap up EVs as fast as the manufacturers could supply them and the demand would cause even faster production schedules by the manufacturers. Back then, we were positive that we would not need an Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption after it was scheduled to expire in July, 2015. For a variety of reasons, our thinking has proved to be wrong.

How it is

There are three bills; HB 1925, SB 5445 and SB 5333 currently under consideration in the Legislature proposing to extend the Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption. Among those advocating for the passage of multiple EV bills this session, these are by far the highest priority of all introduced thus far.

These bills would extend the sales tax exemption until 2021 or 2025 and limit the exemption to the first $60,000 or $45,000 of the EV’s sales price. This latter provision was added to address a perception that the State was unnecessarily giving $10,000 of incentives to the rich people who are buying the Tesla Model S. HB 1925 and SB 5445 are companion bills which help to speed up the legislative process by considering the exact same bills simultaneously by both houses and were introduced at the Governor’s request.

Following last year's Tesla Rally in Olympia, anti direct-to-customer language was removed from a pro-dealer bill.

Following last year’s Tesla Rally in Olympia, anti direct-to-customer language was removed from a pro-dealer bill.

While the estimated fiscal impact of these bills would reduce the State’s General Fund revenues by $60 to $70 million dollars during the next six years, the Office of Fiscal Management’s (OFM) estimate has started taking into account the fact that the leading EV being acquired in Washington is by far Nissan’s LEAF and in our State, 93% of the LEAFs are actually leased. This means that the State has been highly leveraging this EV incentive because the only General Fund revenue the State is forgoing is the sales tax on the LEAFs’ lease down payments and 24 to 36 months of lease payments and not the $2,500 to $3,500 sales tax loss per vehicle OFM had been using in its calculations.

This year there is optimism that one of these three bills will emerge as law in some form at the end of the session. This is because there is an unprecedented confluence of entities coordinating their resources for a full-court press to make sure the sales tax exemption is extended for EVs:

  1. For the first time, Nissan has a full-time lobbyist in Olympia who is working to focus the efforts of the professional lobbyists, volunteer EV advocacy organizations, the Washington Electric Vehicle Advocacy PAC, and a wide variety of sustainable environment advocacy organizations
  2. A bi-partisan EV Caucus has been formed. It is co-led by Senator Mark Mullet (D) and Representative Chad Magendanz (R), both of whom are strong EV advocates inside the Legislature as the result of their extensive personal experiences as EV owners
  3. Governor Jay Inslee, known for his work to create a clean energy future while serving in the U.S. Congress and co-author of Apollo’s Fire, has committed his office to supporting EVs by publishing the Washington State Electric Vehicle Action Plan and following up with requests for an aggressive set of clean energy bills in support of the plan,
  4. The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association’s volunteer Legislative Director, John “JJ” McCoy, whose regular day job for the NW Energy Coalition has him regularly in Olympia during the session,
  5. Plug In America is operating a joint demonstration pilot in Washington with the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association to determine how Plug In America can best use its resources to support State level EV policy initiatives such as Washington including using its advocacy campaign system to call to action about 1,000 of its supporters throughout the state.
Washington could be a great place to buy an EV if all of the proposed legislation passes.

Washington could be a great place to buy an EV if all of the proposed legislation passes.

Other EV related bills currently progressing through the legislative labyrinth include.

  •  HB 1299 & SB 5360 –Proposed Transportation Budget are Governor requested companion bills which in Section 215 contain a $1.5 million appropriation for the WSDOT Public Private Partnerships Office to manage a program to install additional fast charging stations to fill in gaps at locations along I-5 and I-90.
  •  HB 1300 & SB 5358 – Concerning transportation revenue are Governor requested companion bills which extends the current $100.00 annual EV renewal fee to plug in hybrid vehicles in Section 113 and in Section 601, establishes an EV Infrastructure Bank.
  •  HB 1396 & SB 5325 – Incentivizing the use of alternative fuel commercial use vehicles with tax preferences are companion bills introduced by the Chairs of the respective chambers’ Transportation Committees. The provisions would extend incentives which are similar to the existing Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption to new and qualified used commercial electric vehicles not currently eligible for an exemption under the current laws.
  •  HB 1487 & SB 5423 – Reducing emissions by making changes to the clean car standards and clean car program are Department of Ecology requested companion bills which would remove restrictions in the existing laws which now prohibit Ecology from adopting California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate.
  •  HB 1572 & SB 5444 – Establishing an electric vehicle infrastructure bank are Governor requested companion bills to create an EV Infrastructure Bank using the same language in the transportation revenue bills HB 1300 & SB 5358 above.
  •  HB 1853 – Encouraging utility leadership in electric vehicle charging infrastructure build-out by ordering the Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption and reduces the $100 annual EV license
  • SB 5357 – Concerning clean alternative fuel motorcycles adds electric motorcycles to vehicles eligible for the Alternative Clean Fuel Sales Tax Exemption and reduces the $100 annual EV license renewal fee currently assessed to $25 which is closer to what a typical gas motorcycle would pay in fuel taxes. A similar bill died during the waning hours of the 2014 Legislative Session in the Senate Rules Committee after the Senate Transportation Committee with bi- partisan support recommended passage by the full Senate.
  • SB 5446 – Requiring incentives for electric vehicle readiness in buildings by modifying existing law to specify that certain cities with the largest populations and certain counties with the largest populations along the I-5 corridor must develop a local incentives program to promote the installation of EV charging stations. At the same time, there is no budget of State monies for those local jurisdictions to use to fund the mandated programs. It also contains provisions which modify existing law about where local jurisdictions are not allowed to prohibit the installation of public charging stations by adding zoning designations to which the law would now also apply.
Like its neighbour to the south,  Washington wants to support EVs.

Like its neighbour to the south, Washington wants to support EVs.

The elephant in the room

The Washington Supreme Court is holding in abeyance until the end of the current session its finding that the State, i.e., the Legislature, is in contempt for not having obeyed the Court’s order to have passed a budget plan by April 30, 2014, which fully funds the State’s K-12 education system starting with the 2017-18 school year. The Court’s order stems from the McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington decision in which the Court found that the State is failing to carry out its paramount duty mandated by the State Constitution.

My State Representative Ross Hunter, Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has identified the need for a minimum of $1 billion dollars in new State revenue to meet the requirements of the McCleary decision. The bottom line is that if the Republican controlled State Senate follows its pattern of the past two years, it is likely to stand firm on its no new taxes position. This means that bills requiring the use of General Fund monies, they view as non-essential, are in trouble.

There is a potential positive outcome that EV related bills paid for out of the separate Transportation Fund budget will be passed. That is true as long as long as these bills do not become pawns in the tough negotiations expected with respect to paying for the education system from the General Fund.

The current atmosphere in the Legislature is a flurry of activity with Legislators introducing bills in an attempt to curry favor with the emperor. But the emperor has no clothes which means there will be little money available to fund much outside of the State’s K-12 education system.

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  • Nice writeup and summary. Thanks to the work of many people working behind scenes to lay a path for a better future. Hopefully some progress is made and politicians find a balanced solution.