Two Idaho state senators lost a battle to keep a car registration fee on the books, a fee which one of their colleagues believes is unfair.
Sens. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, and Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, unsuccessfully exhorted fellow senators to keep the $75 registration fee on hybrid cars, a surcharge the Legislature approved last year as part of a road-and-bridge repair funding package.
Ultimately, most of their colleagues disagreed. The Senate voted to repeal the fee 27 to 7. The bill now heads to the House for deliberation.
Hagedorn led the charge against the fee, suggesting it moves Idaho a step backward in meeting its road and bridge repair needs. He pointed out, Idaho still runs a repair deficit of about $150 million each year and said the repeal bill doesn’t help the situation.
“And now, we’re backing up,” Hagedorn said.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, would reduce road funding by more than $1 million. The state would lose about $600,000 of that amount, and local highway districts would absorb the rest.
The 2015 package included 7-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike, plus a $20 registration fee increase for most fuel-powered cars and light trucks. That $95 million package also tacked on $140 to electric car registrations, plus the $75 hybrid fee.
During her opening remarks Wednesday, Keough said the Legislature enacted the fee based on faulty data in an attempt to capture more revenue from hybrid-car drivers, who purchase less fuel, but still contribute to road wear. Because some hybrid cars are more efficient than others, and some fuel-powered cars exceed fuel-efficiency hybrids, Keough decided to ask the Legislature to reverse course and end the fee.
Hagedorn urged his colleagues to stay the course. During floor debate he said, “We made a good decision last year and I hope that we stay with that decision.”
The Meridian Republican also pointed out the present bill does not include a mechanism to refund hybrid-car fees to drivers who’ve already paid them.
Rice, though aligned in opposition with Hagedorn, veered in a different direction during his debate. He advocated for keeping the fee because he doesn’t believe the charge creates inequity.
“I don’t remember this being a mistake,” Rice said. “I don’t know if that’s a fair characterization.”
Rice said because hybrid vehicles more or less exceed fuel-powered cars on gas efficiency, the state needs to keep the fee in place to capture the revenue from their owners.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, supported Keough’s bill, but suggested the Legislature also re-examine the electric car fee.
“The fees for electric cars are in excess of what they should be,” Johnson said, estimating the fee might be as high as four or five times what lawmakers might consider fair.