Getting Hyped About Hybrids

If I were to buy another car, for argument's sake, I'd get a hybrid. Why you ask? Because they're fuel-efficient, and that means I'd be helping out the environment, or at least I'd balance out Scott's environmental destruction.

According to new proposals in Congress, saving the environment could be the only benefit of owning a hybrid soon. Not to downplay environmental preservation, but I'm drawn to the financial breaks. That's a big reason why people buy hybrids. But those financial breaks are burning out faster than fossil fuels.

2005 is the last year car purchasers can claim the full $2,000 tax break that's been offered since 2002. And worse yet, hybrid drivers may be taxed higher for buying less fuel. That's right - drivers may be punished for buying less fuel. Less fuel consumption decreases the income Uncle Sam receives the from federal gas tax, which is deposited in the federal Highway Trust Fund. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money and Congress has to look for alternatives.

According to the AP, last year, the House Transportation Committee suggested raising the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax, set in 1993, 4 or 5 cents to accommodate inflation. However, W. threatened to veto any tax raises at that time, and it didn't happen. The Highway Trust Fund needs $500 billion for road and bridge maintenance through 2015. So, the House Transportation Committee will propose raising the federal gas tax again, expanding tolling and bonding use and taxing hybrid car drivers.

Despite the urgency for these funds, I don't think this is the time to punish people for owning hybrids. Removing the $2,000 tax break (which will drop to $500 in 2006 and be phased out in 2007) is enough already. The hybrid market is still in its infancy, and Congress should support any market that steers Americans away from fuel consumption.

Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge is nearly inevitable (it passed in the Senate, but halted in the House), but such habitats wouldn't have to be victimized if legislation supported fuel efficient or fuel alternative technology. Lay off the hybrid car tax and give car buyers the green light to buy fuel-efficient vehicles.