Other Views: Transportation: taxing issue
Posted: January 12, 2013
Gov. Bob McDonnell has pushed the pedal to the metal. The transportation package he announced on Tuesday will provoke a lively, and welcome, debate.
The simple facts cannot be ignored. Transportation in Virginia needs more money. The state cannot do what it needs to do regarding highway maintenance and construction, as well as mass transit, without increasing revenue. The existing streams will not generate enough. McDonnell recognizes this. His answer is dramatic.
The governor would eliminate the state’s gasoline tax and would replace it with dollars raised by a .8 cent hike in the sales and use tax (SUT) dedicated to transportation. Sales taxes keep pace with inflation, which gasoline taxes do not. They also reflect economic growth and are an efficient vehicle for raising revenue. They do not always live up to projections, either.
The Times-Dispatch applauds McDonnell’s initiative and his willingness to address the revenue side of the equation. We are open to debate but are not sure Virginia should abandon the gasoline tax. Although various factors — inflation, efficiency, alternative fuels, driving habits — have eroded the purchasing power of the gasoline tax, the levy remains perhaps the paradigmatic example of a user’s fee. The people who use the roads ought to pay for them and other transportation projects. The gasoline tax has a moral component. The refusal to raise it in recent years suggests an absence of civic virtue.
The McDonnell plan opens other lanes of debate. Even a dedicated portion of the SUT would increase the competition among transportation, education and other core functions. Is the SUT a suitable replacement? We are open to persuasion.
The governor’s move ensures a dramatic assembly session. Ladies and gentlemen of the legislature, start your engines.