FRANKFORT — Since 1920, Kentucky has taxed gasoline at the pumps to pay for road construction and repair.
But with the advent of motor vehicles that do not use gasoline as their chief source of fuel, an advocacy group is pushing for legislation to require "next generation" vehicles to pay for road usage.
Kentuckians for Better Transportation, whose 240 members include local governments, road contractors and other businesses, wants the General Assembly to consider adding a fee to annual auto registrations for electric cars and other vehicles that run on fuels other than gasoline.
Stan Lampe, president of KBT, said the fee probably would be $100 to $150.
Vehicles that run on electricity and natural gas already are on Kentucky roads, and hydrogen-fueled vehicles are not far off, Lampe said. Some auto manufacturers are even experimenting with cars that run on compressed air, he said.
The state has no record of how many such vehicles are in Kentucky, Lampe said.
"But alternative-fuel vehicles are on the assembly line, not on the drawing board. They are coming to your hometown," he said, noting that General Motors last year reconfigured a Detroit plant that makes the Chevrolet Volt to allow production of up to 60,000 electric cars a year.
"We must prepare for the future, and everyone must pay his and her fair share," he said.
The state should get detailed records about the number of next-generation vehicles on the state's highways once a new Web-based tracking system called KAVIS — Kentucky Automated Vehicle Identification System — is in place, Lampe said.
Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the state Transportation Cabinet, said implementation of KAVIS is more than a year away.
During the past year, Lampe has been spreading across the state his message about the need for a an excise fee on next-generation vehicles. He has spoken to about 15 community groups.
Two states — Washington and Oregon — have implemented a fee for such vehicles, Lampe said.
"The new vehicles are not the enemy," he said. "They actually will make our country stronger. But somebody will have to pay for the roads and their upkeep, and we think it should be done fairly."
State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican who is chairman of the Senate budget review subcommittee on transportation, said the state legislature should consider the issue.
"I'm not advocating any fee at this time, but we all know more next-generation vehicles are coming," he said. "We should be sure we take care of our roads and make their cost borne equally."
House Transportation Committee chairman Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, said every state would have to face this issue.
"That's why I think federal legislation is needed," he said. "I would hate to see every state go with its own user fee for next-generation vehicles. You'd get a hodgepodge of fees across the nation. I also am concerned that if Kentucky adopted such a user fee on its own, we might run people out of the state."
Collins noted that the state's gasoline tax will increase 2.1 cents a gallon on Sunday, to 29.9, because of a state law that ties Kentucky's tax to the average wholesale price of gas.
The increase is expected to produce about $57 million more for the Road Fund in the fiscal year that begins Sunday.
"The user fee on gasoline has served our state well," Collins said. "The question we face is what do we do to make sure we have good roads when our cars don't use gasoline."
The Transportation Cabinet has not made any proposals to change the system of raising money to pay for state roads, Wolfe said.