News Column

Hybrid, Alternative Fuel Fee May Be Reduced

March 25, 2013

Jim Nolan


A reduction in the $100 fee on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles included in a sweeping transportation funding package passed by the Virginia General Assembly last month is among the amendments to the package being considered by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Officials familiar with the governor's review process said they expect McDonnell to propose a modest reduction in the fee to a dollar amount that more accurately affects the impact the vehicles have on the state's roads.

Owners of hybrid vehicles, including some lawmakers, strenuously objected to the fee, arguing that it over-taxed their eco-friendly vehicles, a number of which get fewer mpg than conventional fuel vehicles not subject to the tariff. The fee also would apply to owners of electric mopeds, which cost substantially less than cars and are subject to more restrictions on the road.

The hybrid fee is just a small portion of the tax-heavy transportation package, which eliminates the retail per gallon gasoline tax but includes increases in the wholesale tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as increases in the motor vehicle titling tax, state sales tax and regional taxing provisions in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund local projects.

The entire package is designed to raise enough money to fill a projected $500 million gap in road maintenance by 2018, while providing additional millions for new construction, rail and mass transit projects. The vehicle-related components of the legislation will cost drivers an additional $39 to $87 a year.

The first significant transportation package in more than 25 years, it passed the General Assembly on a bipartisan vote of moderate Republicans and Democrats, and was endorsed by McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, as well as gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor in 2013, has voiced opposition to the package and its taxing provisions. Late last week, he released a legal opinion in his capacity as attorney general that questioned the constitutionality of the regional funding components.

Today is the deadline for McDonnell to make amendments to legislation passed during the recently concluded legislative session.

In addition to the transportation legislation, McDonnell must also amend, sign or veto HB 1500 -- the bill containing midcycle amendments to the state's two-year budget, including a controversial provision that authorizes a legislative committee to permit expansion of Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act if certain reforms are implemented.

Cuccinelli on Friday also issued a legal advisory opinion that said a subset of the legislature was not authorized to make the Medicaid expansion decision. The transportation advisory and Medicaid opinions were requested by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William.

But two officials familiar with the administration's deliberations on the bills said they expected some technical and language changes to them, but they did not anticipate major revisions to the transportation or Medicaid components of the budget bill legislation.

"The issues raised were considered during the legislative session and the governor, a former attorney general himself, has not only reviewed the bills but also consulted other legal scholars as well," one official said.

Source: (c)2013 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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