1983 Porsche 911 SC Targa

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Registration and Taxes

I purchased the 911, in gas form, nearly two years ago.  The registration expires next month. Most gas vehicles where I live have to pass a vehicle emissions test as a condition for registration renewal.  By registering the car as an electric powered vehicle, I will be exempt from the emissions testing.  I’ve heard countless tales of bureaucratic confusion surrounding the process of registering a vehicle that has been converted to run on electricity.  I was expecting and prepared for an ordeal.  Fifteen minutes after stepping into the department of motor vehicles office, my car was registered with the state of Oregon as an electric powered vehicle.  The whole event took a little extra time because the clerk was so skeptical that the process could actually be so painless that she called her supervisor over to confirm that there was no inspection, documentation, extra fees, sworn and notarized affidavit, or clearance from a mental health professional required to complete the transaction.  There was just a simple change made to the database under fuel type: electric.

The supervisor commented that he was aware that a number of people have installed fork lift motors on small pick-up trucks, like the Chevy S-10 and the Ford Ranger, but never on a vehicle that was nice, like a Porsche.  The public perception of converted electric vehicles is still dominated by anemic lead acid powered examples.  Without knowing that lithium technology is now viable, the concept of an electric sports car conversion would be incongruent.  My goal that day was to walk out of the office with registration stickers, and everything was going smoothly, so I didn’t feel it was the proper time and place to explain that electric cars have changed and that my conversion could outperform the stock gas configuration.  The phrase, “Anything you say can be used against you…” was on my mind.
After confirming that I was now exempted from pollution testing, the clerk commented that I would also not be paying gas taxes, a tacit admonition that driving on public roads without paying the gas tax is dishonorable.  

 Oregon was the first state in the United States to enact a fuel tax, back in 1919, with the revenue to be used for building and maintaining the road system.  I believe a road is a public good, and I support funding well administered public goods.  I also support a tax based on fuel consumption, because it creates an incentive to consume less fuel and produce less pollution.  As the average fuel efficiency of road going vehicles has increased over the years, and people are buying less fuel, the fuel tax revenue has been declining. 

And so I wondered, just how much tax was I avoiding by driving an electric car.  In 2009, the state of Oregon collected $1,394,000,000 USD for maintaining and building roads and 13% of that total was derived from the fuel tax.  I’m still participating in the other 87% of the revenue generating categories, so I’m OK with not paying the gas tax and still using the public roads. 

Here is how the rest of the road funds in Oregon are sourced: 37% from the federal government, 25% from bonds, and 13% from vehicle and motor carrier (commercial) fees.  The remaining funds come from local sources, and an official sounding category – miscellaneous.

(Source: U.S. Department of Transportation- Federal Highway Administration: “Revenues Used by States on Highways”: 2009; http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2009/sf3.cfm)