Lawmakers push incentives for electric vehicles

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A public electric vehicle fast charging station in Albuquerque limits use to 30 minutes. Image by Marjorie Childress.

Legislators are continuing their drive to encourage more New Mexicans to buy low-  and zero-emissions vehicles as part of a larger strategy to rely less on fossil fuels, while ensuring that drivers who use little or no gas still chip in to maintain the state’s highways. 

House Bill 217 would let buyers of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles take $2,500 or $5,000 off their state taxes depending on their income. It would also give them another $300 tax credit toward a home car charging station and impose a $20 to $50 annual registration fee that would go to the state road fund. New Mexicans pay 17 cents per gallon of gas into the road fund. 

Versions of these proposed incentives have been introduced four times in recent years without success. State Reps. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, presented the revised bill Feb. 1 to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, where it passed by a vote of 8-5.

Lara Cadena said the bill’s sponsors decided to cap the price of eligible vehicles at $48,000, to exclude luxury vehicles that are outside most New Mexicans price range. And people in lower income brackets would be eligible for a larger tax credit. 

Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla

“Those vehicles will be in the market, certainly in places like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and other places where people have the means to make those investments,” Lara Cadena said. “As policymakers, we’re really making sure that we focus our state’s resources, which are limited, on New Mexicans that don’t have room to buy in the electric vehicle market.”

New Mexico lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 to foster EV growth by building up battery charging infrastructure and expanding the transition to battery-powered vehicles to all areas of the state. HB 217 will complement last year’s legislation by making EVs affordable for more residents, Lara Cadena said.

“New Mexico, in different ways, has not really quite stepped into that market. We think it’s because for so many New Mexicans those vehicles were still out of reach,” she said. “As that price point has begun to drop significantly, this credit makes a lot of sense because it might just be that turning point that allows someone to make a purchase like this.”

Less than 1% of cars and light trucks registered in the state are electric or gas-sipping plug-in hybrids, an analysis by consulting firm M.J. Bradley and Associates found, leaving room for a lot of growth in the market.

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, voiced concerns about the $48,000 price cap. “I don’t think New Mexicans should be picking winners and losers in the market of new car manufacturers when they come to New Mexico,” Townsend said. “Limiting one over the other is just not fair, and I think your legislation should be modified to include that.”

In the fiscal analysis of the bill, the Legislative Finance Committee said it was concerned it would be difficult to predict the financial hit to the state budget because it was unknown how many people would seek the tax credits. The report predicted it would cost about $25 million over three years.

Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe

Trujillo has sponsored the EV tax credit since it was first introduced in 2014. He said promoting EV car sales also addresses the state’s role in climate change.

“I am trying to encourage low-income people to buy electric cars to help us with a problem,” Trujillo said. “Maybe you don’t believe that we’re overdoing it with the emissions. But I think it’s a problem and I think that the more we transfer our transportation from gasoline to electric, the better off we are.”

Lara Cadena said the tax credit would expire in 2028 and that legislators are hoping to not renew it. She said the goal is for the bill to “spur economic activity and to spur this kind of market,” so that in eight years New Mexicans won’t have to rely on government action to make an EV a realistic purchase.

The bill moves next to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.

Leah Romero is New Mexico In Depth’s academic fellow at New Mexico State University for the 2019/2020 school year.

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