A Tax That’s Mean, Ornery, Daft, and the Wrong Way Round

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Bruce Rinker
Bruce Rinker

What would you do if you received a bill from your local hospital after successful heart surgery, taxing you annually for your improved health?

That’s essentially what Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican under scrutiny for his jiggery pokery with a campaign donor, has done to every owner of a hybrid car in the Commonwealth: more than 91,000 of them altogether to be taxed every year for simply owning and operating a hybrid vehicle.

So much for the GOP’s long-time whine against additional taxes.

The Governor and his party bedfellows in the State Capitol have now punished people who wish to do their part for the environment, especially in these days of human-accelerated climate change, by driving fuel-efficient vehicles.

Their logic? The fee was needed because hybrid owners pay less in gas taxes, a key source of transportation revenue, said Sean Connaughton, McDonnell’s Transportation Secretary. Duh. That makes as much sense as a hospital tax after heart surgery because your improved health (and reduced dependence on drugs) doesn’t provide as much revenue to doctor’s offices, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical giants! Good grief. Did common sense, relevance, and forward thinking suddenly evaporate in Richmond?

It’s a perverse decision that flies in the face of our overarching concerns about a changing climate.

To be sure, Virginia has a transportation issue. Anyone who’s driven during rush hour on Interstate 66 between Manassas and Washington knows this all too well. The State needs to provide much-needed funds to update its transportation infrastructure and to meet the demands of its ever-increasing population. But a tax on hybrids to help foot the bill? Why not tax the begeebers out of gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks, and wagons instead? Are the bright minds of Richmond next going to tax homes using solar panels because they’re using less electricity from the grid and, thereby, providing fewer utility tax dollars for the State coffers?

Let’s help solve the transportation issue by improved public transportation such as subway services, high-speed commuter rails, energy-efficient buses and trams, and accessible and safe bike paths. Virginia has about a zillion creative options to deal proficiently with the issue, but taxing hybrids is a maneuver straight off the storyline of “Looney Tunes” – and about as quacky as Donald Duck.

These days, the Governor and, by extension, his Grand Ole’ Party in the great Commonwealth of Virginia seem barely afloat and without a compass. With a state population of nearly 8.2 million, leadership on this scale requires savvy compromise, intimate knowledge of complex issues (such as global climate change and sustainable urban policy), and an ability to respond wisely to an ever-expanding and diversified electorate. No doubt he’s distracted by the ongoing police investigations into seeming criminal operations at the executive mansion. He has a job, however, to lead as the State’s chief executive – and to lead implies to move forward. Not backward.

Governor McDonnell signed the new law in March. Connaughton called it “a necessary evil.” The law needs to be repealed. And Connaughton needs to be taken out behind the wood shed for some good, old-fashioned logic lessons. A necessary evil? When is evil EVER necessary? Their tax on hybrid vehicles is mean, ornery, daft, and the wrong way round at a time when human-accelerated climate change is a looming threat to us all. Think about that as you crawl along Interstate 66 next time into Washington!

– H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D.

Ecologist, Educator, and Explorer

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