Electric-car owners not only don't buy gasoline, they also don't pay gas taxes. A bill introduced in the state Senate would try to get back some of that money for the state by charging electric-car owners an annual $100 fee.

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OLYMPIA — Electric-car owners not only don’t buy gasoline, they also don’t pay gas taxes.

A bill introduced in the state Senate would try to get back some of that money for the state.

Under the legislation, electric-car owners would pay a special $100 fee each year when registering their vehicles.

It’s a matter of fairness, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, DCamano Island.

“Electric cars will be driving on the highways right along with all the other cars. One of our biggest issues is preservation and maintenance of our existing highways. We believe they should be paying their fair share,” Haugen, the lead sponsor, said Monday.

Senate Bill 5251 would require electric-car owners to pay the $100 fee, in addition to any other required fees and taxes, when the vehicle is first registered, and when the registration is renewed.

In comparison, the Washington Department of Transportation estimates someone who drives a gasoline-powered car 12,000 miles per year pays an average $204 in state gas taxes. The state gas tax is 37.5 cents per gallon.

Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman said he doesn’t think Haugen’s bill proposes a fee at all.

“That’s a tax. It’s no fee,” he said.

Eyman contends the fee should be subject to an initiative he sponsored, I-1053, that requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, or voter approval, to increase taxes. I-1053 was approved in November.

Haugen disagreed. “Eyman isn’t an attorney,” she said.

It’s not clear if the bill can make it out of the Senate if it passes Haugen’s committee, or how it would fare in the House.

A similar measure died in the Senate last year.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said she likes the idea.

“I definitely support it,” said Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. “This isn’t a big fee. It’s enough to say they are doing their part.”

An analysis by the governor’s budget office projects the number of electric vehicles subject to the tax would increase from around 1,800 today to more than 8,900 by 2016.

Overall, there were 5.5 million private cars and trucks registered in Washington last year.

If the fee is approved, the governor’s budget office projects it would bring in around $400,000 in 2013 and $1.9 million by the 2015-17 state budget cycle. The governor’s proposed Department of Transportation budget for the next two years is $6.9 billion.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Jeff Finn, the volunteer legislative-issues coordinator for the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, said he opposes the bill. “I don’t believe it’s fair and equitable,” he said.

The association is leaning toward recommending a tax on electric cars that’s based on miles traveled, said Finn, adding that such a tax likely would be less expensive than Haugen’s proposal.

He noted electric cars typically travel fewer miles in a year than gas-powered vehicles and do less environmental damage.

Nissan, which sells the all-electric Leaf sedan in Washington, is neutral on the measure, said Katherine Zachary, a company spokeswoman.

She released a company statement that said, “Whenever new technology is being introduced, we’d like to see as few barriers to entry as possible. However, we recognize the need for all drivers to contribute to road-maintenance funds.

“We think this needs to be part of a larger conversation dealing with dwindling road funds, impacted by the variability of fuel economy in all types of vehicles,” the statement said.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com