Hybrid vehicle owners mistakenly billed as new law takes effect

The most sweeping transportation funding bill in state history will take effect July 1. With a combination of new taxes and fees, the bill will raise nearly $1 billion a year. Here’s a snapshot of new fees and taxes that take effect Wednesday:

  • Under Georgia's old tax structure for gasoline, a 7.5 cents per-gallon excise tax and a 4 percent sales tax brought the combined motor fuel tax rate to about 19.3 cents per gallon. Under the new bill, the state eliminated the 4 percent sales tax and converted it to a straight 26-cent-per-gallon excise tax (29 cents for diesel). The motor fuel tax will likely increase over time, because it is tied to inflation and fuel efficiency standards.
  • Heavy trucks and big-rig owners will pay an annual "highway impact fee" of $50 to $100 depending on the weight of the vehicle.
  • Noncommercial electric vehicle owners will pay a $200-per-year fee and commercial EV owners will pay $300 per year. It will be the highest tax on electric vehicles in the country. Five states that have an annual fee on EVs that ranges from about $50 to $100.
  • A $5 per night hotel/motel tax will be added on every room in the state.
  • The bill repeals the popular $5,000 state tax credit for zero emission vehicles and ends a 10-year-old tax break on aviation fuel that was worth about $23 million a year by today's oil prices. Both tax credits end June 30.

Owners of electric vehicles have been preparing for months to pony up for a new $200 fee that takes effect July 1.

But a computer error at the state Department of Revenue has caused some hybrid-vehicle owners to be mistakenly billed for the $200 alternative-fuel vehicle fee, too.

Eyal Lantzman, 38, of Roswell, was expecting the additional charge for his 2013 Nissan Leaf, which is all electric. He was flabbergasted when the $200 fee was added to his annual ad valorem tax bill for the 2008 Toyota Prius, which also uses gasoline, that his wife drives. That brought the total tag fees owed to the state to more than $550.

“It was a shock,” Lantzman said. “And it’s not like I have a new or a fancy car. I was very mad.”

The Georgia Department of Revenue slapped the fee onto the tax bills of all hybrid-vehicle owners with July birthdays and all new hybrid-vehicle registrants. But that’s a mistake, as Lantzman later learned on a Facebook page for electric vehicle owners in Atlanta.

Only people with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt, are required to pay the fee, said Nick Genesi, communications director for the Department of Revenue.

Even plug-in hybrid owners aren’t necessarily subject to the new tax. They only have to pay it if they have chosen to get an alternative-fuel vehicle license plate allowing them to use HOV and the I-85 HOT lanes for free.

The new fee of $200 per alternative fuel vehicle ($300 for commercial vehicles) is owed in addition to the usual license plate fees and taxes. The idea: the tax on gasoline pays for much of the state’s spending on roads; since the electric car owners never buy gas — and don’t pay the taxes on gas — they are paying the fee as their contribution to road maintenance.

But that’s only for plug-ins.

“If somebody got a bill in the mail and they own a regular hybrid vehicle and it says $200 is owed, it is a mistake and it is being corrected,” said Genesi.

A policy bulletin was recently issued about the error. Genesi said he didn't know how many people were billed in error.

Hybrid-vehicle owners who have already paid the fee will be refunded their money. If your birthday is later in July and you received a notice, the issue should be resolved before it comes due, Genesi said. Alternatively, the vehicle owner can visit a county tag office to address the problem.

This isn’t the first time alternative fuel vehicle owners have been stung during the implementation of House Bill 170, a huge new transportation funding bill that passed the Georgia General Assembly this year. The new alternative fuel vehicle fees are part of a complex array of fees and taxes aimed at raising about a billion dollars a year to expand and maintain the state’s aging network of roads and bridges.

Earlier this month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the state wrongly denied 825 Georgia plug-in electric vehicle owners a $5,000 tax credit last year. (The popular tax credit was eliminated as part of HB 170, but alternative fuel vehicle owners were supposed to remain eligible as long as they bought their vehicle prior to June 30).

That mistake was attributed to a data entry error.

About 15,500 electric vehicles are registered in the state, mostly in metro Atlanta — the highest U.S. market share for plug-in electric vehicles.

Michael Williams, 44, of Statham, was initially furious when he saw the fee imposed on his Chevrolet Silverado hybrid, and then relieved when he learned that he was billed in error. But Williams said he now has a new sympathy for the electric vehicle owners.

“To suddenly impose an additional tax based upon something I had already owned and bought to save money on… . Boy. I felt a big slap in the face,” Williams said. “This is going to be a slap in the face to everybody who has a car like that. I’d be pretty ticked.”

Lantzman said he was once proud to be a Georgia resident because the state had some of the most progressive policies in the nation when it came to encouraging EV ownership.

“Now we are back to the same old conservative Georgia everybody knows,” Lantzman said.

Some EV owners are OK with the new fee.

Mike Fogel, 63, of Atlanta, says the savings his family gets from driving a 2012 Nissan Leaf far outweigh the cost of the new tax. And, he figures, electric vehicle owners should contribute toward road maintenance.

“$200? I save $200 a month on gas,” Fogel said. “We’re looking at getting another electric car when the lease is up on this one. We love our car. To me there is a lot of people complaining for almost no reason.”

Arguably the most significant part of the new legislation was a change to the tax structure for gasoline. Previously, motorists paid about 19.3 cents per gallon. Under the new law, drivers will pay about 26 cents per gallon.

In addition to the alternative fuel vehicle fee, a new “highway impact fee” will be imposed on heavy trucks and big-rig owners of $50 to $100, depending on the weight of the vehicle. A $5-per-night charge on hotel and motel stays was also enacted.

All the new fees take effect July 1.