BOISE - Idaho lawmakers made a mistake last year when they slapped an extra $75 annual registration fee on hybrid vehicles. That was the consensus of the Senate Transportation Committee this afternoon, as it unanimously backed legislation from Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, to repeal the new fee.
“I would like to think it’s refreshing” when elected officials admit their mistakes, Keough told the panel.
The senators said they’ve been deluged with complaints about the new fee, which, along with a new $140 annual fee on electric vehicles, was designed to spread the burden for additional road funding when the state raised the gas tax by 7 cents a gallon. The idea was that the electric and hybrid owners wouldn’t pay as much of that higher per-gallon gas tax.
But it turns out that there are now gas-powered vehicles that get the same gas mileage as many hybrids. Plus, the Idaho Transportation Department says there are many different levels of hybrids – some just use their alternate-fuel boost to power things like stereos and windows, while others actually propel the vehicle. All have been charged the fee.
“This is an opportunity to at least demonstrate that the Legislature and this committee is willing to revisit issues that we’ve acted on,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson.
Repealing the fee will cost the state $600,000 a year, and local highway districts, cities and counties $400,000 a year. Keough’s bill, SB 1311, also would remove the fee from “neighborhood electric vehicles,” a type of street-legal golf cart for use in neighborhoods that inadvertently was included in the fee bill last year. It would leave in place the fee for plug-in electric vehicles.
Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said, “I think we all can appreciate the workings of what happened at the end of session last year with the conference committee, and how we got to the bill that we got last year. Thank you to Sen. Keough for bringing this back. I know that things have changed over the years from when we first started discussing an increase in transportation funding. While I am disappointed in a million-dollar reduction to the highway account, I think this piece of legislation perhaps highlights the need to look at other options for funding our highway system.”
Stuart Davis, executive director of the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, said when an array of stakeholders started examining ways to increase road funding several years ago, Gov. Butch Otter “was insistent that we do something about the hybrids, because at the time the hybrids were the only ones getting that kind of mileage. Now,” he said, with gas-powered cars getting comparable mileage, “it makes it very difficult to justify.”
Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, said, “I don’t know if everybody has received all the emails or the calls like I have, but it seems to be a fee that is very, very difficult to explain to everybody. I believe that in Pocatello, at least, they give my telephone number out every time they give a receipt, because I get those. It would be nice to get this taken off.”
The bill still needs passage in the full Senate and House and the governor’s signature to become law.
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