Open Forum: Yes, ‘discrimination’

Posted: January 13, 2014

Regarding John Huff’s letter (Your View, Jan. 9) about “vehicular discrimination”: The Virginia legislature passed into law, in 2013, that all hybrids in the state of Virginia shall be assessed an annual fee of $64.

I called VDOT in Richmond to inquire as to the logic behind this fee being imposed only on owners of hybrid vehicles. The first answer I received spoke to how “unfair” it was that hybrid owners don’t pay “their fair share of taxes” at the pump. There is no statistical data to support this claim.

As a hybrid owner, I am happy with my Prius’ gas mileage. It allows me to drive two to three times more than I used to, taking trips to visit family and friends on a more frequent basis. In my case, it is an absolute lie that I don’t “pay my fair share of taxes” at the pump. I spend every bit as much, if not more, than I did before I owned a hybrid.

Prior to calling, I researched hybrids on Edmunds.com. I found that a Mercedes Benz S-Class hybrid gets 19/25 mpg (city/highway). The Chevy Tahoe hybrid gets 20/23 mpg. Then I went and looked at a non-hybrid, the Hyundai Elantra, which gets 26/34 mpg. The data on Edmunds show that there are hybrids that actually get worse mileage than a typical gas- (or diesel-) powered vehicle.

After discussing these facts, the staffer I talked with issued a desperate plea for my understanding that Richmond had to come up with new ways to generate revenue and asked me, “How else are we supposed to raise money?” My response was, “Stop spending so much and you won’t need to.” The staffer’s last plea for understanding ended with, “Well, at least it’s not the $100 it started out as. You’re actually saving $36 by only having to pay $64.” I decided to end the phone call at this point.

John Huff has hit the nail on the head. This hybrid tax is “vehicular discrimination.” The state legislature and Gov. McDonnell pushed this law into effect without a proper study. The driving habits of individual hybrid owners and the type of hybrid vehicle must be factored into the equation.

If equity at the pump is the deciding criteria, then little old ladies who only drive to church on Sundays, and carpoolers should be assessed the fee as well. They are certainly not paying their fair share.

The bottom line for me is that this law is flawed in its premise and its logic. It does discriminate against a class of vehicle owner in an inequitable manner. Not all hybrids are equal in their efficiency. Not all hybrid owners pay less in gas taxes due to the variability of their driving habits.

A class action lawsuit should be initiated to address the discriminatory aspect of this new law and help lawmakers learn not to arbitrarily single out a class of citizens for what is tantamount to a new and unfair tax.

Scott Straub is a resident  of Frederick County.