TN will triple its dumb EV tax for inflation, but its gas tax lags inflation by ~5x



Tennessee has started the process of hiking its EV registration fee from $100 to $274 per year and beyond, aiming to continue hiking the fees in perpetuity, further increasing the disproportionately high taxes paid by EVs in the state as compared to gas cars.

We’ve covered many times before how misguided these taxes are, not least of which because they are the result of a cynical lobbying ploy by the oil industry to disadvantage a better transportation method.

Tennessee’s $100 fee was lower than that of many other states, but it still taxed EVs at a much higher rate than a similarly-efficient gas vehicle. For example, a ~140mpg gas car, if it existed, would pay ~$28 in gas taxes in a year if driven 15k miles, but a 140mpge EV, which there are multiple of, used to pay $100 even if it was low mileage. As a flat fee, it also adds a small disincentive for drivers to remain low mileage, which doesn’t help with congestion or road usage.

This year, Tennessee’s EV fee has doubled to $200 – but it’s not stopping there, with the state claiming that it will continue increasing to $274 in 2026, and then continue increasing beyond that along with inflation. Tennessee lawmakers and the Department of Transportation commissioner had asked to raise the fee to $300, which would have tripled the already-disproportionate fees that EVs pay.

But one big issue here is: inflation was not 100% last year, and won’t be 37% in the next two years. These hikes are well beyond inflation, on top of a fee that was already too high per the calculations above.

Not only that, but the gas tax has not been indexed to inflation in Tennessee. In fact, the gas tax has lagged inflation significantly, getting smaller over time in comparison to the value of a dollar. You can see a history of Tennessee gas taxes here, showing that drivers used to pay 7 cents per gallon in 1931, but only pay 26 cents now (plus a “1.4-cent special petroleum fee“). If gas taxes had kept up with inflation since then, they would be $1.42 per gallon – meaning they’re ~5.4x too low, compared to inflation.

But that’s because gas taxes didn’t go up for 50 years in Tennessee, until there was a measly 2 cent bump in 1981. Starting our calculations from that year, gas taxes are a lot closer to keeping up with inflation, but still should be about 20% higher than they currently are – and that’s without accounting for 2023’s inflation or the next few years’ worth which will be captured by this near-tripling of EV fees.

What’s worse, this year’s tax hikes were not well publicized, and many Tennessee EV drivers were left in shock with a doubling of fees from one year to the next.

If this trend keeps, then the gulf between TN’s gas tax and EV tax would continue to increase, becoming more and more unfair to EV drivers who already pay more than if they were driving a similarly-efficient gas vehicle, and much more than the amount of damage they’re doing.

The rationale for Tennessee’s tax is similar to those in other states – Tennessee is laboring under the misguided notion, propagated by Koch/fossil fuel industry propaganda, that electric vehicles don’t pay for roads. But in fact, the vehicles that are doing damage to roads also don’t pay for the damage they’re causing to roads – gas + license taxes only cover ~60% of Tennessee’s road costs, which means that fossil-powered vehicles are freeloading on at least a third of the road budget anyway.

And in actuality, virtually all road damage is done by diesel semi trucks anyway, not gas or electric cars, so road damage has little to do with passenger vehicles. An average EV does tens of thousands of times less damage to roads than a semi truck over the course of the year, so if a $274 fee is considered fair for an EV, then semi trucks should be paying registration fees in the millions of dollars – and if the latter sounds too high, then simple math means one must also acknowledge that the former is too high, if road damage is the main concern.

On top of this, gas taxes certainly don’t pay for the immense damage that burning gasoline causes, which cost society about $4 per gallon burned. The total cost of subsidies to dirty energy in America, a large portion of which goes to gasoline for motor vehicle use, was $760 billion in 2022. Few states even attempt to correct for this subsidy, with only a few having any sort of pollution pricing scheme. So gas vehicles are freeloading on our lungs even moreso than they’re freeloading on the roads.

The real solution, as ever, is to implement a drivetrain-agnostic road fee that takes into account weight and mileage, and another drivetrain-agnostic pollution fee to correct for the damage that each vehicle causes in pollution (these can be added to energy costs, tire costs, etc.). But instead, Tennessee would rather bow to fossil fuel propaganda and attempt to balance its entire road budget by overtaxing the 22,040 EVs in the state instead of implementing a long-term solution that might make gas cars (and diesel trucks) start paying their fair share.

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