Open Forum: Flawed plan
Posted: January 12, 2013
Gov. McDonnell has finally conceded to the realization that our roads and bridges are in critical need of repair and new funding is necessary to meet those needs.
The magnitude of this problem is daunting. A 2004 study mandated by the General Assembly estimated the commonwealth’s 20-year transportation funding shortfall at $74.2 billion in unmet road needs, and $30.7 billion in unmet transit needs.
Mr. McDonnell, to his credit, has proposed a way to raise additional money to address this problem. Unfortunately, his proposal falls far short of what is needed and has major flaws in the way it will be implemented.
Mr. McDonnell has proposed eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, raising the 5 percent sales tax to 5.8 percent (dedicating the additional revenue to transportation), dedicating an additional quarter-cent of the sales tax to transportation, increasing the vehicle registration fee by $15, and charging alternative-fuel vehicle drivers a $100 annual fee.
Eliminating the gas tax makes for good headlines, but is hardly a solution to the problem. Mr. McDonnell complains that the gas tax revenues have not kept up with needs due to inflation and increased efficiency of vehicles. True enough, but the real problem is that the gas tax has not been adjusted since 1986. As costs and needs have skyrocketed over the years, our tax-averse General Assembly has refused to make any adjustments to the gas tax rate.
Why eliminate the gas tax and increase another tax to address this problem? The gas tax makes sense. It is paid by those who use our roads and is proportionate to the usage. And, of course, it is also paid by visitors as well as state residents. Transportation needs should logically be funded from transportation sources: fuel tax, vehicle registration, tolls, etc.
The real problem though with Mr. McDonnell’s proposal is not elimination of the gas tax. In addition to increasing the sales tax, he also proposes shifting some of the current sales tax from the general revenues to transportation. This is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. The general fund revenues are used to pay teacher salaries, books, schools, law enforcement, first responders, and social support needs as well as many other things. No other statewide needs should suffer in order to fix this transportation mess we have let develop over the years.
Finally, Mr. McDonnell has proposed a $100 annual fee on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. This proposal makes no logical sense that I can think of. Any fair tax would either be spread equally among everyone or place the burden most heavily on those who create the greatest demand.
I would propose a fee on large trucks and SUVs that create the most damage to our roads and environment before the typically smaller hybrids. We should be encouraging, not punishing, the use of smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles for many reasons. I find it completely befuddling that he would throw in this nonsensical fee on a minority of well-meaning citizens. Why punish good behavior?
I hope our elected representatives will do the sometimes difficult but necessary job they are elected to do and find a way to raise the money we so desperately need for transportation, without taking money away from another critical program, or singling out a small minority of well-meaning taxpayers with a punitive targeted fee.
David Snow is a resident of Winchester.