June 24, 2024

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EVs are cool, but NC can’t afford to lose revenue over them

OPINION AND COMMENTARY

Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

Republican lawmakers are raising questions about how the state will pay for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to put more electric vehicles on the roads by 2030. They’ve asked him to outline a strategy to ensure the state can pay for much-needed bridge and road repairs in coming years.

Republican lawmakers are raising questions about how the state will pay for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to put more electric vehicles on the roads by 2030. They’ve asked him to outline a strategy to ensure the state can pay for much-needed bridge and road repairs in coming years.

Republican lawmakers raised questions last week about how NC will pay for Gov. Roy Cooper’s transportation plan. We asked Cooper, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Vickie Sawyer to address the plan.

On any given morning, I play with the snooze button, searching for a few more restful minutes before brewing my first cup of coffee and opening my laptop. After returning emails and reading the news I take stock of my day — work appointments, household errands, and making sure our daughter gets to school.

My carefully tailored plans go haywire as soon as I hit the road.

I never know when or how, but at some point, the anxiety-ridden battle of navigating congested traffic begins. It is a race to the next light, or a quick turn out of one lane to another, or a white-knuckled hold on the steering wheel as I see that no one really understands the flow of a zipper merge intersection.

I share this story because it’s the same experience for so many other North Carolinians in our growing state.

North Carolina is at a crossroads. The future of transportation is quickly shifting from a reliance on gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles.

The free market and governmental forces are favoring electric vehicles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am a fan of more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles because I want the cleanest environment possible in North Carolina. Plus, let’s face it, EVs are just cool.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently announced a goal of getting 1.25 million electric vehicles on the road in North Carolina by 2030. For reference, as of December 2021, there were 24,997 EVs registered in the state. While I support embracing this new technology, we must be realistic about its impact on the DOT’s financial picture and what it means for all of us.

What keeps me up at night is the fact that the N.C. Department of Transportation receives nearly 50% of its funding from a tax on gasoline sales. That means as more EVs hit the road the state will have less money to maintain and invest in safe and accessible roads and bridges. Potentially eliminating half of the department’s revenue source will have devastating consequences.

The NCDOT is already facing a dire financial situation. In 2017, mismanagement led to the department overspending by $740 million. That’s had a ripple effect on current and future projects that is still playing out in real time.

All over the state, projects that were promised to start a few years ago are being pushed to many years from now. I applaud the new leadership at NCDOT for hitting these challenges head on and working to solve the issues, but the impacts of past mistakes will be felt for decades to come.

When I heard about the governor’s goal, I was concerned about what this means for all of us, our state’s economic competitiveness, and for our future generations. Due to project delays, inflation, and rising material costs, the NCDOT is already over budget by $11 billion for future projects. If we want to keep up with the demands of our growing state, we must act now.

The General Assembly has started that process. In the 2021 budget we included an annual transfer of car rental revenue from the General Fund to the Highway Fund. Likewise, existing transportation-related taxes can be dedicated to our roads at no additional cost to taxpayers. However, we must address how EVs, hybrids and other emerging technologies will fairly pay for their use of the roads.

We need to have that hard conversation with the governor, NCDOT, and other stakeholders. We must find real solutions to supplement the loss of revenue as fewer gas-powered vehicles hit the road. We can’t let politics get in the way of working together to find a solution.

Senator Sawyer represents Iredell and Yadkin counties in the N.C. Senate and is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

This story was originally published January 31, 2022 4:30 AM.

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