Hybrid Outrage at the Department of Motor Vehicles

Two legislators vow to introduce effort to repeal new tax on hybrid vehicles.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) appear at the Alexandria Department of Motor Vehicles to announce their intention to introduce legislation repealing the tax on hybrid vehicles.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) appear at the Alexandria Department of Motor Vehicles to announce their intention to introduce legislation repealing the tax on hybrid vehicles. Photo by Michael Lee Pope.

Suzanne Cleary has owned a hybrid vehicle since 2006, making her an early adopter and a proselytizer to her friends and neighbors. Cleary, who lives in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, gets 45 miles to the gallon. And although she acknowledges that means she saves money on gas, Cleary rejects the idea that drivers of hybrid vehicles don't pay as much tax money toward transportation funding.

"That argument is flawed," said Clearly. "I have paid substantially more to have license plates that identify it as a hybrid, so I'm paying a good deal more as I did to buy the car."

Earlier this year, members of the General Assembly approved a $100 tax for drivers of hybrid vehicles as part of a landmark transportation package. When the governor convened the veto session, that was reduced to $64. Supporters of the tax on hybrid vehicles say the gas tax is how roads are funded in Virginia. So drivers of vehicles that use less gas end up paying less money for transportation than drivers of traditional vehicles.

“There’s two ways you could do a bill like this,” said Del. Dave Albo (R-42). “You could pick one group and just cream ’em, or you could make everybody pay their fair share. And so we decided to make everyone pay their fair share.”

THIS WEEK, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) appeared at a press conference at the Alexandria Department of Motor Vehicles in Alexandria to announce an effort to repeal the new tax. Although the next General Assembly is six months away, the new fee becomes reality this week along with all the other new laws. Ebbin and Surovell say the tax is bad public policy.

"We're taxing people for doing the right thing," said Ebbin. "It doesn't make sense. It was ill thought out and it was an idea that wasn't ready for prime time."

The tax on hybrid vehicles is expected to raise about $5 million a year. Ebbin said that money could be taken from new revenues created by the failure of Congress to pass Marketplace Equity Act. Because Congress has not adopted the measure, which taxes Internet purchases, Virginia stands to increase the gas tax at a higher percentage because of legislative language tucked into the final transportation package. Surovell says he's not concerned about where the state can find $5 million, which he says would pay for little more than "a stoplight."

"This tax is going to be unduly felt in Northern Virginia," said Surovell. "This revenue is not going to go into the Northern Virginia regional transportation fund. It's going to go into the statewide fund for everybody to spend."

VIRGINIA HAS about 7 million vehicles. About 90,000 of them are hybrid vehicles. That means that the new tax will hit only 1 percent of Virginia vehicle owners. That means that many residents and businesses that have chosen to spend more money to invest in environmentally sustainable transportation will be hit by the new tax. One of those is EnviroCab, the only taxi service in Northern Virginia with an all-hybrid fleet.

“I think it’s preposterous,” said Rick Vogel, general manager of Arlington-based EnviroCab. “So we should be penalized by being friendly to the environment, and gas hogs should be given a break? That’s like charging a good citizen a fee for being good versus the criminal.”

The debate about how the commonwealth should pay for roads has been a sticking point for years. Candidates have promised solution after solution, but little has been accomplished until this year. When the General Assembly finally approved a plan to pump $3.5 billion into transportation projects. Many legislators said they held their nose on the hyrid tax and voted for the package anyway.

“The consensus among Senate Democrats is that the tax on hybrid vehicles is not necessary and discourages behavior we should be encouraging,” said state Sen. Don McEachin (D-9). “However, we judged that the benefit of passing a comprehensive plan took precedence this year. Next year, I am certain we will revisit the issue of a punitive tax on hybrid cars.”