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Do hybrid owners pay their share, or do they have a target on their back?

 

By TED CARTER

Georgia did it. So did Virginia, before the Commonwealth decided it wasn’t such a great idea, after all.

The two states enacted special registration fees on hybrid cars, figuring that motorists who drive electrically powered cars put wear and tear on roadways but avoid paying the motor fuel taxes that pay for road maintenance.

With the stroke of Gov. Nathan Deal’s pen earlier this year, Georgia hybrid owners went from beneficiaries of a $5,000 state tax credit to owing the state $200 a year to register their vehicles; the price is $300 annually for commercially used hybrids.

In a move some political observers saw as legislators sticking a finger in the eyes of the “greenies,” Virginia’s House of Delegates enacted a $64 annual license fee on electric cars. The move, according to media reports, led 7,700 owners of Priuses, Civics and other hybrids to launch a drive to kill the fee. Soon, the hybrid fee had its Appomattox, relegated to the history books as a misadventure.

Georgia’s fee lives on, however. “It’s been fairly controversial,” said Seth Millican, executive director for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Alliance.

“But I don’t think there’s an argument really there. They have been paid to drive our roads the last seven or eight years,” Millican added, referring to a hybrid vehicle tax credit of $5,000 that Georgia abolished this year with its transportation funding overhaul.

It is not known whether a special registration fee for hybrids will be among options presented by a Mississippi Economic Council transportation task force. The task force’s report, in the works for more nearly a year, is expected out any day now. Its options are expected to focus mainly on fees that reflect usage of state roads and bridges.

On one hand, the electric-car fee is “rational and reasonable, because they are not paying” for highway upkeep with motor fuel taxes, said John O’Dell, a senior editor at Edmunds, an automotive publisher and website (Edmunds.com) that provides research and data on new and used vehicles.

“Many of the electric cars weigh as much, if not more, than their gasoline-powered counterparts,” and thus put wear on roads and bridges, said O’Dell, who specializes in writing about the hybrid vehicle industry.

While a user fee is fair, the $200 a year Georgia charges does not appear to be, he added.

Why should the state make someone who is getting the equivalent of 100 miles-to-the-gallon pay the same as someone who is getting 30 miles to the gallon? O’Dell said.

He said it seems states are “sort of painting a target on the electric car.”

What Georgia has done and what Virginia tried to do will make motorists less likely to switch to hybrids, he predicted. “You are dis-incentivizing people to go hybrid.”

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