Hardy Plumbing
May 10, 2006

Hybrid Plan Blooms

You could call it good car-ma . . . and good fiscal sense. Buy a hybrid vehicle, save money and the planet.

Last week North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine proposed eliminating the sales tax on the purchase of hybrid, alternative fuel, clean fuel, and electric vehicles. Such cars currently cost more than comparable gas guzzlers. Exempting a purchaser from the sales tax would encourage consumers to go green when they go car shopping.

New York State has the power to regulate sales tax. Romaine's initiative asks the state to give Suffolk County that authority to create the exemption. Assemblyman Fred Thiele has already authored comparable state legislation to that end.

According to the "how stuff works" website, any vehicle that combines two or more sources of power for propulsion can be called a hybrid. Most on the market in America combine gasoline with electricity for power.

Leveraging the positive aspect of both types of power — the refueling ease and speed capabilities of gasoline engines and the environmental benefits of an electric car — a hybrid is thought to combine the best of both worlds. Emissions are reduced without the inconvenience of frequent time-consuming recharging electric cars require. Additionally, a hybrid can keep up with other cars in traffic.

As of January of this year, there are 10 hybrid car models available in the United States. The Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius both get 60 miles per gallon in city driving conditions. On the highway the Honda tops 66 mpg, with the Toyota boasting 51 mpg. The Prius came out of Japan in 1997, and the Toyota debuted three years later. The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for a 2006 Prius is $21,725, and the Insight's MSRP ranges between $19,330 and $21,530.

While Romaine hopes to encourage county residents to go green in their cars, the county is practicing what it preaches. During his first year in office, according to Chief Deputy Paul Sabatino, County Executive Steve Levy earmarked a "substantial" sum in his capital budget for buses that use alternative energy. The plan is to replace existing buses with more environmentally friendly models over time, said Sabatino.

Additionally, the county is considering buying around three dozen hybrids as part of its annual fleet purchase. Finally, just this year, Suffolk began using bio-diesel fuel in some of its equipment at the Bergen Point landfill. Levy has been pushing for the use of alternative energy since he took office in 2004, Sabatino said.

The tax exemption for hybrid car buyers is part of what Romaine calls his "Energy Cost Savings Plan." Other components of the package include supporting state legislation that, if adopted, would offer an income tax credit for business owners who purchase solar-powered equipment. The county recently voted to exempt the sales tax on solar energy systems for homeowners.

Earlier this spring, Romaine co-sponsored, with South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman, a bill seeking authority from the state to regulate the sales tax on gasoline. If the bill is successful, Suffolk could decide whether to eliminate or reduce the 8.625% tax per gallon it's currently collecting. So far, Democrats have stalled the proposal in committee. A second sales tax elimination measure, sponsored by Legislator Cameron Alden (R., Islip) would eliminate the tax on home heating fuels like oil and natural gas. Last year Levy and Alden compromised to adopt a reduction of the tax. According to Romaine, Suffolk is the only county in the state that taxes home heating fuels.

As the price of energy has climbed, so have revenues. Romaine has repeatedly opined that the county ought not benefit from what's caused an economic hardship for many residents. Last week he reiterated that stance, adding, "Energy costs are out of hand and government has done little to grant relief. Although we can't reduce the cost of a barrel of oil, the state and county can reduce taxes and create incentives that will benefit consumers."

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