Virginia hybrid-vehicle owners rose up with a collective roar, and on Thursday the commonwealth took a big step toward getting rid of its much-reviled “hybrid tax.”
Virginia’s House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to delete a $64 annual license tax imposed last year as part of a breakthrough transportation funding package. The state Senate has passed a comparable bill.
From Annandale to Appomattox, more than 7,700 owners of Priuses, Civics and other hybrids had joined with their environmentally minded supporters in a petition drive seeking a reversal of the fee by the General Assembly. They flooded lawmakers with comments. “Backward thinking,” wrote one. “Ridiculous,” said another. “Just one more stupid Va law,” wrote another.
“If we’re going to tax fuel efficiency, we might as well tax insulation and vegetables,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), a sponsor of the Senate bill.
“We might as well start taxing nonsmokers for not doing their fair share, either,” added Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon), another key opponent of the tax. “You were taxing people for doing the right thing.”
One of the ideas behind the tax was to make sure all drivers pay their share of the cost of building and maintaining roads, which is funded in part through a tax on gasoline. If drivers use less gas, the thinking went, they end up contributing less for public roads.
“I want to make sure we have a fair system,” said Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who voted against ditching the hybrid tax. “They don’t get to use the roads for free just because they’ve gone green.”
Opponents of the tax argued that it was designed and applied illogically. The owner of a Lexus hybrid getting 20 miles per gallon is currently subject to the $64 annual fee, noted Ebbin, but the owner of a Toyota Corolla getting 29 miles to the gallon is not. “I think that there’s a misguided perception that all hybrids use less gasoline than all standard engines, and that’s not accurate,” Ebbin said.
Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax), a former Virginia secretary of transportation, said the tax was “not thoughtful, not refined.” But she still voted Thursday to keep it in place. As more and more hybrids join the traffic rolling on the commonwealth’s roads, it will be a bad and costly precedent to allow drivers of one class of vehicles to avoid their share of road-building costs, she said.
“For the first time, we’re creating a class of vehicles that can basically ride free,” said Watts, a longtime transit supporter who for years has been arguing for more transportation funding.
All-electric cars will still have to pay the yearly $64 fee, and other green-leaning drivers of cars powered by liquefied natural gas also have to pay an alternate tax, because the gasoline tax that doesn’t apply to them, Watts said.
Thursday’s house vote to ditch the tax was bipartisan, with Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) netting significant GOP backing as a key sponsor of the House bill. Each house must pass the other chamber’s bill before the tax would be repealed.
If the new measures become law as written, hybrid owners who prepaid their taxes for the year that begins July 1 would get a refund for that year, costing the state $2.2 million, according to a legislative analysis. Revenue losses would total $6.9 million in the first year and more than $10 million by 2020, according to the analysis.