Idaho legislators, who last year singled out fuel-efficient hybrid owners by zapping them with an arbitrary $75 fee to register their cars because, well, they save gasoline, seem to be having a change of heart, starting with the Senate’s lopsided vote to rescind last year’s punitive clean-car penalty after realizing newer plain old gasoline cars get reasonably good fuel economy as well.
It’s not as though lawmakers totally got the error of their ways, however. While they’re begrudgingly jettisoning the ill-advised extra registration charge for hybrids like Toyota’s signature Prius, they’re leaving intact an even heftier and more odious $140 penalty they slapped on owners of all-electric vehicles for the privilege of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Some lawmakers thought they were trying to solve the imagined problem of ultra-efficient motor vehicles skating by without paying their fair share of highway maintenance costs because Idaho’s roads and bridges are maintained largely with money collected from fuel taxes. And since green cars don’t use as much fuel, they don’t pay as much in fuel taxes. So rather than find a more equitable and logical way to fund state road expenses, such as through taxing the carbon we use in our transportation fuels, lawmakers opted to kick the can down the road and stick it to those who are doing their share by driving low-emissions cars and trucks.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, introduced a bill to remove the year-old hybrid fee. Her bill passed the Senate 27-7 on Feb. 24 and has been sent to the House. Keough said it’s evident that targeting hybrid car owners may not have been such a good idea after all, given that some new non-hybrid vehicle models get as good or better gas mileage as the hybrids.
Keough’s bill also removes the additional fee imposed on “neighborhood electric vehicles” such as street-legal golf carts. It leaves intact the extra $140 fee lawmakers imposed on owners of electric vehicles, as well as the 7-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase lawmakers approved as part of the package to shift more costs to clean-car owners. If approved, the bill would cost Idaho about $600,000 a year and local highway districts another $400,000 a year in lost registration fees.
And, as said above, the elephant in the room that is our antiquated system of funding road and bridges maintenance dodges any attempts to find a solution for another legislative season.