The latest federal highway bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, recently passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works by a 21-0 vote. It is being touted by …
The latest federal highway bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, recently passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works by a 21-0 vote. It is being touted by some — including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who chairs that Senate committee — as the largest highway bill in history. It also contains a costly billion-dollar taxpayer-funded giveaway to the wealthy that should be stripped from the legislation before it goes any further.
Wyomingites would likely agree that finding workable solutions to the problems plaguing our nation’s bridges, waterways and roads is a real priority and a proper role of the government.
Sen. Barrasso’s infrastructure bill does address some of those issues — but it also contains language that should be a non-starter for conservatives and taxpayer advocates alike. The bill would establish a new billion-dollar government subsidy to construct electric vehicle (EV) charging and hydrogen fueling stations across the country. This is the sort of big-government program that comes with a very steep cost to American taxpayers.
In February, when Sen. Barrasso introduced the “Fairness for Every Driver Act” to put the kibosh on federal electric vehicle tax credits he rightly called on the government to “pull the plug on subsidies for electric vehicles” because they are unfair, unnecessary, wasteful, market-distorting and the subsidies come with an enormous cost to American taxpayers. But exactly the same thing can be said for subsidizing the charging stations. The government shouldn’t be wasting our hard-earned tax dollars on either of them.
As Sen. Barrasso noted when he introduced his bill to eliminate federal EV tax credits, there are now over 1 million EVs on American roads today. By 2030, that number could swell to as many as 18 million. Virtually every single auto manufacturer is investing heavily in electric vehicles. A mature industry like this can survive on its own. The last time I checked — when President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act into law back in the 1950s — it included a whole lot of roads, but the government wasn’t in the business of building gas stations. Electric cars and their charging stations are no different.
Studies clearly show that the vast majority of people who benefit from EV subsidies (and the vast majority of EV owners themselves) are wealthy Americans. But the costs of these subsidies are borne by all American taxpayers. Those added costs won’t hurt the rich people who drive EVs — instead it will be older folks on fixed incomes living in rural parts of Wyoming and the rest of the country. I bet if you asked them, they would much rather use what little extra money they have to pay for things like their own food and medicine, rather than be forced to cover the cost of a charger for somebody else’s Tesla.
When Sen. Barrasso introduced his Fairness for Every Driver Act, he noted that there were only 51 EVs sold in the entire state of Wyoming in 2017. It doesn’t seem right that our tax bills — and our electric bills — will go up so that people just passing through in their expensive electric cars will have a convenient place to plug them in.
Conservatives in Washington have an incredible opportunity to demonstrate a clear contrast with socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the Green New Deal cheerleaders when it comes to energy and environmental policy. When our government subsidizes markets, it kills innovation and diverts private sector investments away from where there is actual consumer demand. If Republicans are going to get serious about innovation, they need to start with the understanding that innovation is market-driven — not government-dictated. Sen. Barrasso knows this intuitively. As he said in remarks from the Senate floor, “the electric-car market can thrive without Washington subsidies,” and “hard-working Wyoming taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize wealthy California luxury car buyers.” I couldn’t agree more.
Consumers have every right to buy electric vehicles if they choose. There are now dozens of options available on the market. The government, however, shouldn’t be trying to goose these purchases by giving government handouts to those who can already afford EVs — let alone to carmakers and utilities who can afford to build the charging stations, but would clearly much rather just have American taxpayers subsidize them. Let consumer demand and market forces bolster the transportation sector, not government handouts that will mostly benefit the wealthy.
Let’s hope that Sen. Barrasso leads the charge in removing this poison pill from America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act before it goes to a full Senate vote.
(State Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, represents House District 25 in the Wyoming Legislature. Laursen — who is also the Wyoming state chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council — is in the midst of his third term. This column first appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune.)