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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Repeal of Idaho’s fee on hybrid cars may be dead

Idaho House chamber on afternoon of Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (Betsy Z. Russell /

BOISE – Legislation to repeal an unpopular $75 annual fee on hybrid vehicles that Idaho lawmakers passed last year may be dead for this year.

The measure passed the Senate on Feb. 24 on a 27-7 vote. All North Idaho senators supported the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.

But instead of scheduling a hearing on the House side, House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer introduced a different bill, which would combine removal of the hybrid fee with a five-year, phased-out elimination of gas tax funding for the Idaho State Police – a proposal that, on its own, was handily defeated in the Senate earlier in the session.

In both Palmer’s new bill and the earlier Senate version, no replacement source of funding was proposed for ISP. The highway fund provides $16.4 million a year to ISP, 21.6 percent of its budget. Palmer argues that gas taxes should pay for road construction, not other programs, including the state police.

Keough said she told Palmer straight-out that the move wouldn’t fly in the Senate.

“I said, ‘I’m shooting the hostage,’ ” she said. “You either think it’s a good idea, or it’s not a good idea.”

Palmer said earlier that he was working on a broader registration bill to replace the hybrid-fee repeal bill. That proposal, he said, would lower the hybrid fee. But on Tuesday afternoon, he still was holding out for the combo bill.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said Palmer’s combo bill, which was introduced in his committee, is dead.

“I just agreed to introduce it, is all I did,” Collins said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s not going anywhere this year.”

Collins informed Palmer on Monday that the combo bill wouldn’t get a hearing; lawmakers are pushing hard to adjourn their session this week.

“I’m not giving up,” Palmer said. “There’s so many things that are in play right now.”

Keough told the Senate that the hybrid fee was enacted based on data showing that hybrids got much better gas mileage than nonhybrid vehicles. But the technology has changed since that data was compiled, and today there are nonhybrids that get just as good or better mileage than some hybrids.

When lawmakers raised Idaho’s gas tax last year by 7 cents per gallon to pay for road and bridge repairs, lawmakers created the hybrid fee arguing that drivers of electric cars and hybrid vehicles wouldn’t pay their fair share of the additional burden. Keough said that premise turned out to be “faulty.” Her bill left intact the new $140 annual fee on plug-in electric cars.

Senators said they’ve been deluged with complaints about the new hybrid fee. Plus, the Idaho Transportation Department reported that 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.