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Idaho Senate to Repeal Fee on Hybrids

Electric and hybrid vehicles faced higher registration fees because they allegedly don't pay as much at the pump, but lawmakers changed their minds after strong backlash from constituents.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Less than a year after the Legislature passed a $95 million plan to boost funding for Idaho's aging roads and bridges, lawmakers say they're spending this session cleaning up the mistakes made in the final hours rushing to get the funding proposal passed.

On Wednesday, Senate lawmakers voted 27-7 to remove a new $140 annual fee for hybrid vehicle owners. The higher fee was part of a plan that raised vehicle registration fees and the gasoline tax by 7 cents. Electric and hybrid vehicles faced higher registration fees because lawmakers argued those owners don't pay as much at the pump.

"I mistakenly believed, because of my work on this issue and resulting debates, that the extra fee was based on data that showed there was a difference," said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the bill's sponsor. "My hope is that we remove this fee while we spend the time in the interim to determine what the equity is and isn't."

Other lawmakers said they had received multiple angry phone calls from constituents upset about the hybrid fee increase because some gas-powered vehicles get the same, or more, gas mileage as many hybrids. Furthermore, officials with the Idaho Transportation Department say they've been charging alternate hybrids — like cars that use alternate fuel for windows — the higher fee much to the chagrin to the public.

However, removing hybrids reduces $1 million for maintaining the state's roads and bridges.

That reduction is concerning figuring how hard lawmakers had to fight to secure last year's funding boost, which didn't even address the state's full transportation shortfall, said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. Officials estimate that even with the $95 million funding increase approved in 2015, the state's shortfall remains around $165 million.

"We made a good decision last year," Hagedorn said. "I appreciate that people want to buy hybrids, but they made a choice to do that."

Attempts to find additional sources of funding for transportation have failed to make any traction this session. Instead, Keough's bill is the second measure lawmakers have considered that would clean up last year's transportation plan. House Transportation and Defense Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, has also introduced a bill that would fix a mistake directing tax revenue on special fuels. However, that bill will have no fiscal impact on funding for bridges and roads.

Senate Bill 1311 now goes to the House for approval before it can reach Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's desk.

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