An ambitious scheme to nearly double government subsidies for electric vehicles — along with a slew of climate policies — saw mixed results in the state’s supplemental budget approved this week by legislators.
To nudge drivers away from fossil fuels, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed in December spending $100 million to subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles. However, in the supplemental budget announced Wednesday, only $25 million was earmarked for the incentives and with no clear structure yet indicating who would be eligible, when or for how much. The Legislature passed the budget late Thursday.
With public demand for green cars comparatively low in Washington state and the infrastructure for electrified transportation still in its infancy, the proposal might have been premature.
“We’ve decided to focus primarily on public infrastructure and charging availability,” said Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, on Thursday.
The legislature appropriated $207 million for charging infrastructure and $120 million for electric-vehicle incentives through the end of the next biennium, in June 2025. Included in the latter is $95 million reserved for the next legislative session, while $25 million will become available in June.
Rebates on electric vehicles and charging infrastructure could be part of that program but are not explicitly required, according to the governor’s office.
Inslee intends to direct the Department of Commerce to use the funds for rebates specifically targeting communities affected the most by air pollution, his office said Friday.
“It will take some time for Commerce [department] to develop the program so when it would actually begin to be spent and what it would pay for is still to be worked out,” said Mike Faulk, Inslee’s spokesperson.
“We want to move forward on that but we’re probably going to see a main investment of that in a normal budget year,” Carlyle said, adding that the principal funding for electric-vehicle subsidies will probably happen next year during the longer session of the biennial legislative cycle.
The governor’s original proposal would have provided up to $7,500 in state payments in addition to the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for some vehicles. A lump sum like that could have helped many people transition to zero-emission cars, but it wasn’t clear how to target those who would otherwise be unwilling or unable to do so.
The electrification of transportation is crucial in the state’s campaign to eliminate fossil fuel emissions by 2040.
On Wednesday, Washington’s Democratic lawmakers announced a $64 billion state budget deal, including a nearly $17 billion transportation package lauded as the biggest and greenest in the state’s history.
Included in the supplemental operating budget is $69 million for grants to create EV charging infrastructure in rural areas, office buildings, housing and other state and local government offices; $25 million for EV incentives; and $8.5 million to create a map of charging locations — all of which will be hashed out in the coming months, and years, by the state’s Department of Commerce.
Everything from passenger vehicles to heavier machines like buses, garbage trucks and drayage trucks used to deliver shipments to and from the port every day are a target for lawmakers and lobbyists looking to slash the emission of greenhouse gases.
And yet, debate over how to shift drivers away from internal combustion engines is undermined by an ongoing supply chain crisis and historic inflation. Prices of used cars and gasoline have soared in recent months.
“Because of the supply chain issues for passenger EVs, some lawmakers were a little bit concerned,” said Leah Missik, a Washington state transportation policy expert for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit organization. “The demand for electric vehicles is only increasing especially as we see more makes and models, which is really exciting, but a lot of them are backordered because there’s so much demand and the supply constraints.”
While the proposal for EV rebates saw mixed results this session, lawmakers allocated millions in spending to, among other things, install an additional 150 electric-vehicle charging stations around the state and $2 million to provide charging stations for cruise ships idling while docked at the Port of Seattle’s downtown terminal.
“We really need to go big on these clean transportation investments and continue to do so session after session,” Missik said.
The supplemental budget also allocated funds to improve air quality monitoring and access to solar energy in overburdened or low-income communities, advance the production of hydrogen fuel and reduce methane emissions from landfills.
During this session, a bill promoting the decarbonization of large commercial or multi-family buildings passed However, bills that would have strengthened building codes or allowed electricity utilities to incentivize customers to switch to electric heating did not.
“We clearly have a lot more work to do in the buildings arena,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, who chairs the House Environment and Energy Committee.
While the big-ticket item on the agenda — the $17 billion transportation package — also passed the Legislature, lawmakers are looking to the next session to make up for missed opportunities.
“I still don’t feel like we’re taking enough steps forward at the pace that we need to in order to achieve our state greenhouse gas targets and to reduce our emissions to a safe level,” Fitzgibbon said. “We still need to move faster than we are, but that doesn’t mean we’re not moving in the right direction.”