Alternative fuels for vehicles pushed by Ohio House bill

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

A $2.4 billion capital budget, a requirement that tax overpayments be returned, and incentives to promote alternative fuels for vehicles all received broad support yesterday in the Ohio House.

Arguing that other states are ahead in alternative-fuel development, Rep. Sean O’Brien, D-Brookfield, said it is vital that Ohio enact tax incentives and a grant program to boost the market, especially with the increase in shale drilling in Ohio for oil and natural gas.

“Passage of this bill will bring Ohio energy independence, enabling our residents to pay less at the pump,” O’Brien, a joint sponsor of the bill, said before the unanimous vote.

The bill offers a nonrefundable income-tax credit or commercial-activity tax credit for the purchase of a new alternative-fuel vehicle or the conversion of a vehicle to alternative fuel, such as natural gas. The credit would be 50 percent of the price of the conversion, or the price difference between a new alternative-fuel vehicle and a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle. The credit would be capped at $5,000 to $25,000, depending on the vehicle weight class.

The bill would create a $16 million-a-year grant program for governmental entities and nonprofit corporations for vehicle conversions and would provide a $500 sales-tax credit for the purchase of qualified electric vehicles. The incentives would end after five years.

“Incentives can jump-start the process, but ultimately it’s up to the private-sector market forces to dictate the future of alternative fuels,” O’Brien said. “If Ohio does not begin to promote this alternative energy, we will be left behind.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

In other business, the House unanimously approved a bill requiring that Ohio businesses be notified if they make an overpayment to the state. Under past practice, the state kept the extra money unless the business owner specifically asked about it within three or four years.

Under House Bill 402, which now goes to the Senate, the state must notify taxpayers of an overpayment no later than 60 days before the end of the statute of limitations. It also allows the tax commissioner to issue an automatic refund or credit toward future tax liability.

Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, a joint sponsor of the bill, said that if a cable or utility bill is overpaid, the customer expects a refund or credit without asking. The same, he said, should be said of taxes.

“If you overpay your taxes, the government has a duty and obligation to tell you and allow you the opportunity to get that money back,” Duffey said. “We will be the first state in the Midwest to have a provision this aggressive.”

The House also voted 88-2 to approve the two-year, $2.4 billion capital budget. The Senate is expected to quickly approve the budget next week.

The bill was worked out between the House, Senate and governor before it was introduced last week. Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said the process avoids a “reckless array of amendments” and projects that never got built because they cost more than the state was willing to pay.

The bill has about $160 million in community projects, including $15 million for the Veterans Memorial project in Downtown Columbus.