Note from Dan: Lots of people have been wondering why on Earth Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to kill the gas tax, but at the same time implement a new $100 a year tax on hybrids. I simply assumed some cynics in a Richmond conference room came up with this idea after one of them said, “How can we stick it to those environmentally conscious wackos who never vote for us?” But Bill Carstensen of Blacksburg has given it more thought.
By Bill Carstensen
I have been searching for a good reason that we hybrid owners should pay more to register our vehicles than others under the new “no gas tax” plan (gee, that sounds a lot like “no car tax” doesn’t it? That certainly went well for the state treasury).
Here is the plan’s logic as I see it:
Spread the cost of building and maintaining roads to all who spend money in the state through a sales tax increase and a removal of the state gas tax. I can go for that, at least in principle, as we all benefit from roads whether we use them personally or not. Someone uses them to bring us most of what we own and what we eat. For added revenue, charge a bit more to everyone who registers a vehicle in Virginia. I can also see that plan as we all should pay toward the roads we drive on through registration fees.
And, best of all, for more added revenue, charge a special rate of $100 per year to those who have made the decision to drive hybrid or electric vehicles (Virginia was 8th nationally in such registrations in 2009 so I am certainly not alone here). So, let’s try to understand the economics of the last part of this decision.
You have people who have chosen to help with the following, documented and understood (admittedly not all are politically agreed upon) physical and social issues by becoming more fuel efficient:
• We put too much CO2 into the atmosphere every day and the majority of Americans believe that it is affecting our climate;
• Americans spend too much of our money on imports and have a terrible trade imbalance – petroleum is a big part of that at $327 billion in 2011; and
• We complain daily about the price of gasoline at the pump and wish we could spend less without decreasing our mobility (“Hey, let’s look at a hybrid for our next new purchase?” What an idea – oh no, wait – the Commonwealth of Virginia sees our little game there and is fixing it).
a) “Hybrid owners do not buy enough gas to keep up with the Commonwealth’s highway needs at the current rates, so we would have to raise gas taxes to account for them.” We certainly wouldn’t want the drivers of low mileage pickups, vans and Hummers to suffer. They already suffer since gas is so expensive and their choice of vehicles has put an unfair burden on them for many years. OH, BUT WAIT, the plan just removed the gas tax so we no longer care who buys how much gas. I guess that argument doesn’t work.
b) “Hybrid owners have not been paying enough gas tax historically as they have bought less gas for many years now.” So, we need to collect $100 a year rebates from hybrid owners to make up for their skimpy past contributions.
I guess “B” must be the logic. It’s a penalty on the persons who have bought high-mileage vehicles to save money or help the environment or reduce dependency on foreign oil, or to meet any and all of those goals. They have been beating the system for years now – especially those who have gone so far as to buy vehicles that do not use only gasoline.
Let’s be sure that there is not a financial incentive, lets even go so far as a disincentive, to purchase a hybrid in Virginia, especially for those on more limited incomes for whom the $100 would make the largest difference, the same persons for whom the gas savings would make the most sense economically.
In the final analysis, only driving “regressive,” low mileage older technology vehicles deserves a tax break! Do I sense another “only in Virginia” moment coming on? Well, at least my hybrids will burn no gas while stopped waiting in long lines to pay tolls on the state’s new toll roads!