Proponents of the fees say the issue is one of fairness. Since 2013, 24 states and the District of Columbia have moved to raise their gas tax, including five states just this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In California, a 12-cent hike in the gas tax is expected to pay for nearly half of the state's $52.4 billion infrastructure package to repair roads and alleviate congestion.
But since electric cars don't need gas, those drivers don't pay the tax — even though they use the same roads as traditional cars. California's new $100 annual fee on electric vehicles will go into effect in 2020 and is expected to raise $200 million over the next decade.
"This landmark legislation offers counties real hope to catch up on a significant backlog of deferred maintenance," California State Association of Counties President Keith Carson said in a statement. "We're finally going to be able to start fixing potholes, improving pavement and making sure our bridges are structurally sound."
But environmental advocates worry the fees could curtail electric vehicle sales. Edmunds.com estimates the cars account for just 0.6 percent of the auto market. Sales growth has slowed dramatically, from 227 percent in 2013 to just 5 percent last year, according to the data.
In addition to the fees, the Sierra Club counted seven states that have eliminated rebates for purchasing an electric vehicle. Coplon-Newfield said sales plummeted in Georgia after the state enacted new ownership fees and got rid of the incentives.
Also facing extinction: a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an electric car. The credit expires once manufacturers sell 200,000 vehicles, and major automakers such as Tesla, General Motors and Nissan are on track to hit that limit within the next few years. But advocates are concerned that the credit could wind up on the chopping block even sooner amid sweeping efforts to simplify the tax code.
Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, said her organization is willing to help fund infrastructure projects. But she said the current fees are arbitrary. She pointed to the debate in Vermont, where a recent state government report instead recommends postponing electric-car taxes until they make up 15 percent of vehicles on the road. The report projected that would happen in 2025.
"Everyone needs to pay their fair share, but the fact is that we think it's premature to impose fees on a technology that's contributing to so many other national, state and local goals," Cullen said. "As part of a comprehensive fix of infrastructure funding, let's put everything on the table. … But in the meantime, to create impediments to a new technology that has a lot to offer seems not the best solution."