New year means new fees for hybrid and electric car drivers

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Drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles will now pay more at the tag office, but Kansas officials say they'll still end up saving on overall fuel taxes.

The Kansas House and Senate passed a bill in 2019 that increases the fees for registering a hybrid or all-electric vehicle, and it went into effect January 1, 2020. It has some drivers feeling they're being punished for saving money at the pump, but the state Department of Revenue says it will help keep highways funded.

Clark Ensz has been driving a hybrid car for about five years, and he enjoys driving it.

"It was an adjustment, at first," Ensz said. "I grew up with muscle cars. So, believe me, this is not a muscle car." Ensz said he thinks the hybrid car fits him well now, and he spends about half as much on gasoline as he did before. 

The state of Kansas says that savings hybrid drivers experience is having a negative impact on the state highway system. Until now, drivers of electric or hybrid vehicles would pay an extra $30 or so when registering vehicles to offset the lost gas tax revenue. The new law means drivers of hybrid vehicles will now pay an extra $50, and drivers of all-electric vehicles will pay an extra $100.

"The Kansas highway system is funded by the fuel sales tax," said Roger Hamm, Deputy Director of the Division of Property Valuation. "This would be a logical way to begin to level out the playing field and bring some funding from our hybrid-electrics and electric vehicles in the state."

Some drivers say they feel the increase in fees will discourage others from making the switch to hybrid or electric cars.

"They used to incentivize driving hybrid vehicles, and now it feels like they're penalizing you," said hybrid driver Anthony Freeman. "It's odd."

"I can see both sides of it," Ensz said. "On the one hand, I want good roads. So, I understand that if there's less coming in from taxes on gasoline, that's going to have to be replaced somewhere."

"I don't like it, of course," Freeman said. "It's 50 dollars from my pocket. I don't understand why it needs to come from my pocket."

The state says the move is expected to raise state highway fund revenues by more than $600,000, but it will not entirely make up for the lost gas tax. That means hybrid or electric vehicle drivers will, in general, still spend less on extra registration fees than they would have on fuel taxes. The new law is also not expected to be a permanent solution.

"The fuel sales tax is going to be limited in the future," Deputy Director Hamm said. "So, they did say, 'we need to figure out a better way, perhaps, of funding our highways.'"

"More is going to have to happen in the future," Ensz said. "It'll be interesting to see what way they go."

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