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Senate panel votes to rescind hybrid-car fee hike

Senate panel votes to rescind hybrid-car fee hike

Dustin Hurst
February 18, 2016
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February 18, 2016

The Idaho Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously Thursday to walk back $1 million in fee hikes it passed last year as part of a road funding package.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, presented the bill and told her panel colleagues that though she finds it "painful" to reduce funding for roads and bridges, she sees her bill as equitable to hybrid car owners.

The Idaho Senate added a $75 fee to hybrid car registrations last year as part of the Legislature’s $95 million gas tax and vehicle-fee hike bill that ended the 2015 session. That bill, which included a 7-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike, also tacked on a $140 fee for electric car registrations.

Keough said she and other legislators didn’t have a good, evidence-based foundation to assess the fee, which sought to capture money from high-mileage cars that don’t pay much in gas taxes at the pump but use a lot of road. After researching how the Legislature determined the hybrid fee, Keough decided to address the issue.

“I’d like to think it’s refreshing when a government official admits making a mistake,” Keough told the panel.

Amy Smith, a high-level staffer for the Idaho Transportation Department, told the committee the fee caused problems because hybrid cars handle their power distribution differently. Some might use the hybrid energy to power auxiliary features, like windows, lights or radios. Others use the hybrid power to cut down on gas use.

And officials don’t have a way to know which is which.

“There [are] varying degrees of hybrid,” Smith told the panel.

Stuart Davis, representing the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, noted that several gas-only automobiles match or exceed the fuel efficiency of some hybrid cars.

The measure also exempts neighborhood electric vehicles, like golf cars, from the $140 fee lawmakers added to those registrations last year.

If the plan clears the House and wins approval from Gov. Butch Otter, it would reduce highway funding by more than $1 million annually. Of that amount, the state would lose about $600,000 per year, and local highway districts would lose the rest.

The measure now heads to the full Senate for further deliberations.

Hear Keough's presentation below:

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