Couple claims state tax policy on hybrid cars unfair

Michael Givel and his wife, Rebecca Sherry, have found themselves ensnared in Oklahoma Tax Commission proceedings over a tax credit for their 2006 Toyota Prius.

The OTC is relying on obsolete data for the Prius to offer a tax credit substantially less than state tax regulations authorize, they maintain. And Givel, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, is angered by what he sees as heavy-handed tactics by OTC officials.

"The whole process has provoked an undue, highly aggressive and unwarranted reaction from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to a good faith request from a citizen," he said.

The Prius hybrid automobile can squeeze 55 miles from a gallon of gas and produce 89 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car. Powered by both a gasoline engine and electric motor, the Prius exceeds federal standards for a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle.

Oklahomans who purchased the environmentally friendly Prius in early 2006 received a $3,150 federal tax credit; however, Givel said, that credit is being phased out.

Givel and his wife are not the first to encounter OTC resistance to rewarding Prius owners. In an administrative tax commission law case initiated in late 2005, another couple was refused any sort of tax credit for the Prius.

After more than a year of hearings, conferences and appeals, an administrative law judge overruled the OTC and upheld an Oklahoma law that awards hybrid car owners a tax credit for the lesser of $1,500 or 10 percent of the car's value if the taxpayer is unable to or elects not to determine the exact basis for the car's electrically supplied propulsion.

Otherwise, the credit is 50 percent of the cost of the hybrid, limited to the portion of the vehicle that is propelled by electricity, or the percentage of time the vehicle operates solely by electricity.

He said he and his wife learned of the Oklahoma tax credit after they purchased the car: "Not even the Toyota dealer knew about the state tax credit. We called the tax commission help line."

On their 2006 tax return, Givel and his wife applied for a tax credit for the Prius based simply on the car's gas engine and electric motor horsepower ratings. That would have the car operating on 47 percent electricity. The OTC denied the claim and substituted the $1,500 tax credit. "Randall Turk



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