Potomac News Online | Less gas, less taxes

It’s the year 2003 and a majority of Americans still don’t drive cars powered by hydrogen, electricity or even household garbage, as so many prognosticators told us back in elementary school.

The closest we have come to mass producing an alternative fuel vehicle is the hybrid, which uses a small amount of gasoline to power an electric power cell. These, along with clean fuel burning automobiles, emit a fraction of the pollution of conventional cars.

Loudoun County is about to become the first jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to give a tax break for hybrid cars. While the state currently picks up the tab on 70 percent of the personal property tax on automobiles, Loudoun is offering to pick up the remaining tax for those driving hybrids. Instead of paying a personal property tax rate of $4.20 per $100 of assessed value, owners of cars such as the Toyota Prius or the hybrid version of the Honda Civic would pay tax rate of only a penny.

Since Northern Virginia is under sanctions from the federal government based on smog (we call them sanctions because there’s really no positive term for them), it makes common sense to encourage the use of hybrid cars just as we encourage residents to use VRE or HOV.

It will be interesting to see where the Loudoun proposal goes as other areas consider similar initiatives. Hybrid owners currently enjoy HOV privileges, but a VDOT commission recently recommended removing them as part of a plan to clean up the commuter lanes.

In many ways the hybrid is considered a thoughtful innovation, but it’s also a hindrance because so many laws and regulations are geared toward conventional gas-powered automobiles.

Oregon rewarded its hybrid car owners in 2001 by doubling their registration fees. Instead of treating hybrid owners as forward-thinking, conservation-minded drivers, the Oregon state legislature treated them as tax cheats.

They viewed hybrid owners as people trying to avoid the gasoline tax, which funded highway construction. To make up the difference, they raised the registration fees from $15 (charged to gasoline car owners) to $30.

There are close to 700 hybrid or clean burning fuel vehicles registered in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. That may not sound like many, but it’s considerable when considering that less than 100 were registered a few short years ago.

A tax break toward hybrids won’t make everyone go out and buy one. They’re still expensive and most won’t change over until it’s viable to do so. Plus, no one will by such a vehicle until it looks similar to what everyone else is driving.

Still, it’s not a bad idea to reward those who have taken the step of purchasing a car that produces less smog.

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