Because of the huge state revenue gap caused by the novel-coronavirus shutdown earlier this year, funding for a program to encourage New Jersey residents to buy electric vehicles has been slashed.

This past January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a clean energy measure that offered $5,000 rebates to people buying new zero-emission cars. But the $30 million program has been cut by $16 million.

Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey and president of ChargEVC, an electric vehicle coalition, said the most important thing that needs to happen right now “is for the administration to maintain the level of EV rebates going into this next fiscal year.”

He said he's still hopeful the final budget that must be adopted by the end of September will include funding for the rebate program.

‘What we don’t want to do is we don’t want people to think there’s a rebate program, apply for it and then not be able to get it," he said.

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He said even during the difficult times created by the pandemic, "we need to make sure that we’re getting more electric vehicles on the road, because that’s one of the best strategies to clean up our air, because electric vehicles are the best way to reduce air pollution.”

He said right now there are about 30,000 electric vehicles on the road in Jersey, but “we need to be bumping up those numbers because of the Clean Cars mandate to more than 300,000 electric vehicles by 2025.”

New Jersey joined the Clean Cars program, which started in California, more than 15 years ago. Since then more than a dozen other states have signed onto it, pledging to increase the number of electric vehicles on their roadways by the 2025 target.

O’Malley is convinced the electric vehicle market is evolving and on the brink of taking off.

“You know, it’s not your grandfather’s Prius anymore," he said. "There are electric vehicles offered by every automaker. Increasingly there will be electric vehicles even offered in SUV’s and trucks.”

O’Malley  said once people start using electric vehicles and find they're fast and quiet, they don't want to go back.

"The more that people see how great these cars are, it means we’ll be able to get enough momentum to get those cars on the road by 2025," he said.

He said out auto dealerships, carmakers and many other organizations have joined environmental leaders in supporting the electric vehicle movement “because they see these are the cars of the future, and the good news is we don’t have to wait anymore. The cars of the future are here.”

The clean energy program funding cut has also created uncertainty about plans to begin to dramatically increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the Garden State, including on the Turnpike and the Parkway.

Right now there are about 350 EV public charging stations in New Jersey. O’Malley and others want that number pushed up past 1,000 in five years.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.