State Politics

Idaho Senate committee looks at undoing last year’s hybrid-car surcharge

It seemed fair enough last year: Make hybrid-car owners, who use less gas and pay less in fuel taxes, pony up their share of road- and bridge-fixing costs with higher registration fees.

This year, not so much.

The Senate Transportation Committee Thursday voted to rescind the higher fee imposed on hybrid vehicles last year as part of the transportation funding bill.

Loss of the $75 per-vehicle fee means $1 million less revenue for road and bridge maintenance, which is allocated 60-40 between the state and localities. The bill now goes to the Senate floor.

Last year’s transportation bill raised registration fees along with imposing a 7-cent increase in the gas tax. The substantial fee increase for hybrids was thought to balance with the higher cost of fuel for gasoline-only vehicles.

But sponsor Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, noted that fuel efficiency of some gasoline-only vehicles now rival conventional hybrids, which use both gas and electricity.

“If the premise was that the additional registration fee was an attempt to provide equity in that pay-as-you-go system,” Keough said, “the extra registration fee for hybrids is not equitable.”

The higher fee applied to any vehicle classified as a hybrid by its manufacturer. That included so-called neighborhood electric vehicles, such as street-legal golf carts, which are specifically exempted under the new bill.

Keough and others who supported last year’s transportation bill lamented the loss of revenue.

“I think this piece of legislation perhaps highlights the need to look at other funding options for our transportation system,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD

Bill to ban cell phone while driving comes too late

A bill to make cell phone use while driving an infraction in Idaho fell before a Senate panel Thursday.

The bill, endorsed by AAA, required unanimous consent by the Senate Transportation Committee to be introduced this late in the session, but Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, objected.

“I probably would not support the bill anyway,” Vick said. “But because it’s a big issue and it’s late, I just think that it would be better to not...get into the habit of allowing late introductions of very many bills.”

Idaho’s law against texting while driving took effect in 2012. As with the texting ban, violation of the cell-phone ban would have meant a fine. The laws do not apply to use of hands-free devices.

The deadline for introducing bills through most legislative committees is the 36th day of the session, which was Monday.