Got to have that SUV? Get ready for a sales-tax hit

Nancy Goodman sees the hulking SUVs pass her on the highway, but it's never the lofty perch of the driver or the vehicle's smooth handling that leaves an impression.

Instead, she pictures the higher emissions that spoil the air, the lousy gas mileage that drives up prices, and the global warming that threatens the coastline. And she thinks they should pay for it.

"If folks want to choose a really fuel-inefficient car, they should have to pay for some of the costs we're all bearing as a society," says Ms. Goodman of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, who drives a Ford Escort.

Massachusetts lawmakers are debating a bill that would force people who buy new SUVs, minivans, and other gas-guzzling vehicles to pay a higher sales tax. If passed, the legislation would be the second of its kind in the nation: Arizona already has measures that give financial incentives to electric and hybrid-fueled vehicles.

The Massachusetts tax would be 10 percent for new vehicles with the worst gas mileage, sliding down to 0 percent for the most fuel-efficient cars.

That's too much for Tyler Kimball, who uses four trucks to work a farm in Haverhill. The most fuel-efficient among them gets about 10 miles a gallon. "There isn't much money in farming anyway," he says.

Cort Boulanger, who drives a Ford Explorer, says the government shouldn't be deciding what he needs. "The way I look at it, if you own an SUV and you want to suffer through low gas mileage and poor steering, that's your prerogative," he says.

To become law, the bill must clear the House and Senate. Acting Gov. Jane Swift, however, would be unlikely to sign it, says a spokesman.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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