Virginia legislators seek to repeal hybrid tax

Two Northern Virginia state legislators will introduce bills to repeal Virginia’s new tax on hybrid and electric vehicles on the first day of the next legislative session, they announced Monday, when the tax took effect.

“It’s illogical, unfair, not well thought out and hastily passed,” state Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said Monday at the Alexandria office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. “The way to improve our environment is not to tax vehicle owners who are doing the right thing.”

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) originally proposed a $100 tax on alternative fuel vehicles in his transportation bill, but that was rejected by both chambers. His reasoning was that those cars use the roads as much as gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, but because the drivers buy less gas, they are not paying their share of state transportation taxes.

Opponents rejected the argument, but the fee returned, at $64, in a compromise bill from a conference committee. Legislators were told to “take it or leave it,” said Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon). The tax raises about $5 million out of a $1.4 billion budget, or “enough to pay for a stoplight,” Surovell said.

He called it “a tax on virtue, a tax on people who are doing the right thing.”

The state reports 91,769 alternative-fuel vehicles registered in Virginia, less than 1 percent of the more than 7.5 million registered vehicles statewide. But 80 percent of them are in Northern Virginia, said Surovell, who drives a 2004 Honda Civic hybrid. “A lot of people feel the tax was a poke in the eye” to Northern Virginia.

Owners of hybrid vehicles joined the legislators and officials of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network at the news conference, attesting to what they said is the importance of taking steps to reduce carbon pollution.

“I specifically bought” a 2006 Toyota Prius hybrid “to put a stake in the ground to preserve the environment,” said Suzanne Cleary of Alexandria. The state and federal governments have encouraged people to buy hybrids, she said, through tax rebates and the allowance of alternative-energy vehicles in high-occupancy vehicle lanes. In addition, “we pay a hefty price up front,” she said, which offsets the lower fuel consumption.

“We should reward Virginians who do their part to lower climate pollution, not punish them,” said Beth Kemler of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which organized the event.

Ebbin and Surovell collected more than 7,000 signatures in three weeks on a petition that asked McDonnell, unsuccessfully, for a line-item veto. Surovell and Ebbin said many legislators have told them they would vote to reverse the fee if it were detached from the overall transportation bill.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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