CHEYENNE - An apparent loophole in a recently passed state law may force lawmakers to reconsider how the state taxes electric cars.
The Legislature passed a law earlier this year that made Wyoming one of eight states that place a special fee on the so-called "green vehicles."
The new tax, which went into effect July 1, requires owners of plug-in electric vehicles to buy a $50 decal.
Lawmakers, at the time, said they intended this to be an annual fee.
But documents that will be presented to legislators this week show that an attorney general review of the new statute couldn't locate any language that requires the decal to be purchased each year.
Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, is the co-chairman of the Joint Revenue Interim Committee, which sponsored the alternative fuel tax bill during the past session.
He said Wednesday he was surprised to learn the language didn't specify it as an annual fee. But he hopes the Legislature will be able to correct the issue during next year's budget session.
Madden said the $50 decal is not expected or intended to be a significant revenue generator for the state. But he said it's a matter of fairness, since fuel tax revenues help pay for the state's road system.
"It's a user tax. Those who use the roads should pay something," he said. "It's really just a placeholder to send a signal to citizens that we are treating everyone who uses the road fairly."
There was little debate over the decal during the past legislative session. It was included in a 70-page bill that also sets tax rates for several other alternative fuels, including pure methanol, pure biodiesel, ethanol and other alcohols, liquefied petroleum, propane, coal-derived liquid fuels and hydrogen.
That bill passed unanimously out of the state Senate and received 53 out of 60 votes in the House of Representatives.
But some proponents of electric cars say Wyoming and other states should be incentivizing their use, rather than adding fees.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states have incentives for buying hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles.
These benefits include financial incentives, vehicle inspection or emission test exemptions, parking incentives and utility rate reductions.
Wyoming, which offers none of these, was awarded an "F" by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project in its latest report on state policies that promote electric vehicles.
Will Toor, director of transportation programs for the group, said there are several economic and environmental benefits for states if more motorists drove electric vehicles.
"Even in states that are heavily invested in coal, such as Wyoming, there are still some significant air quality benefits, particularly in the more concentrated population centers," he said.
He added that electric cars use locally powered sources to charge their vehicles, instead of requiring their owners to spend money on gasoline that tends to come from out-of-state sources.
Toor, however, said he agrees that electric vehicle owners should pay their fair share to maintain the roads. But he suggested Wyoming look to models being used by its surrounding states.
Colorado, for example, put a similar decal fee in place two years ago. But it earmarked a portion of it to go toward building more charging stations throughout the state.
Colorado also added an income tax credit for buying an electric vehicle.
Since electric vehicles make up such a tiny share of the country's auto market, Toor said these types of incentives will help them become more popular and, in turn, make the decal fees more profitable to states.
He added that data shows these incentives are encouraging consumers to buy more electric vehicles, especially in the past several years as their prices have come down.
"You can get a used (electric vehicle) now for $13,000 or $14,000," he said. "People have this sense that this market is only for folks who can afford a $60,000 Tesla, but that's no longer the case."
Madden, however, said he doesn't believe the state should be in the business of encouraging one fuel source over another.
"I'm not a big believer in engineering the outcome of market events by using tax policies," he said.
Lawmakers will discuss more issues involving alternative energy sources and fuels today during the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee meeting in Riverton.
An agenda for the meeting, however, does not list any potential legislation dealing with the topic that the panel will consider at this time.