Ohio lawmakers promote electric vehicle manufacturing

COLUMBUS — Fearing it has already fallen behind neighboring Indiana and Michigan, the Ohio House has voted overwhelming to create a 10-member commission to help drive electric vehicle production in the state.

It also voted to enact a five-year sales tax break for the production of engines, batteries, brakes, and other components made strictly for electric vehicles. But many of these components may already be covered by broader tax breaks that apply to manufacturing, processing, assembly, machinery, and equipment.

A legislative analysis said it was unclear how much House Bill 292 might expand those breaks.

The bill passed the House 78-10 and now goes to the Senate.

“I think it gets us closer to a level playing field,” Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D., Toledo) said. She sponsored the bill with Rep. Al Cutrona (R., Canfield).

“The state has to decide to embrace electric vehicles,” she said. “They’re coming. I see where Ford has changed its time frame for production of electric vehicles.”

The temporary sales tax exemption would last through 2026. It would not include such things as tires and radios that could also be used in production of combustion engine vehicles.

The new Electric Vehicle Commission would include one representative each of local governments, organized labor, the electric vehicle industry, auto dealers, charging station manufacturers, and Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit focused on advancing cleaner fuels and energy-saving vehicles. These members would be appointed by the governor.

The remaining four members would consist of members of each party in the Ohio House and Senate, appointed by the chambers’ leaders.

The panel would examine such things as the skilled workforce, training, research, development, and, if Ms. Sobecki has her way, the retooling of idled plants. Commissioners would not be paid but could be reimbursed for travel expenses.

Wayne Blanchard, Region 2B director for the United Autoworkers of America in Ohio, told the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee that decisions made today by states like Ohio will determine where investment decisions are made by manufacturers.

“As it stands today, most of the production footprint of tomorrow’s advanced automotive technology will be overseas,” he said. “It is projected by 2029, 70 percent of the lithium-ion batteries that power (electric vehicles) will be built in China and another 16 percent will be built in Europe.

“(Electric vehicles) are an opportunity to reinvest in U.S. manufacturing, but that opportunity will be lost if vehicles and their key components are imported,” he said.

He noted that the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe, the best-selling plug-in hybrid, is manufactured in Toledo while the power electronic module used in that plug-in system is made in Perrysburg.

There was no mention on the House floor of Lordstown Motor Corp. in the Youngstown area, currently Ohio’s sole all-electric vehicle maker. Located in the old General Motors plant that once made the Chevy Cruze, the company has yet to commercially produce its battery-operated truck, the Endurance.

Ms. Sobecki pointed to neighboring Indiana, which has already enacted tax incentives and created a state commission. Its governor and those of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have created the Regional Electric Vehicle Coalition to promote the development of electric vehicle infrastructure.

“It would hope we would get into the (regional coalition),” she said. “Look at what Ohio has to offer in manufacturing vehicles. We have GM, Powertrain right here down the road. We need to start having the conversation to move Ohio in that direction.”

No one voiced opposition to the bill either in committee or on the House floor. The sole negative vote from northwest Ohio was cast by Rep. Riordan McClain (R., Upper Sandusky). He did not return a call seeking comment.

Separately, the House last week unanimously approved Mr. McClain’s House Bill 165, which would create a temporary non-refundable tax credit of a nickel per gallon on retail sales of high-ethanol motor fuel, also through 2026.

The credit, which would be applied against the personal income tax, would be expected to cost the state between $1 million and $2 million in revenue in 2024. That bill also goes to the Senate.

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By Jim Provance

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio