Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gov. McDonnell transportation plan - remove the gas tax

Photo via Flickr
Virginia Gov. McDonnell recently announced his solution to the transportation funding problem: eliminate the gas tax. The Virginia gas tax, 17.5 cents, is one of the lowest in the nation and has not been raised since 1986. To think that the solution is to eliminate this tax and implement an increase in the sales tax is an odd choice.

Eliminating the gas tax will take away one incentive to drive less. It will treat those who drive gas guzzling SUVs the same as drivers of lightweight fuel efficient cars. To make matters worse, the governor wants to penalize alternative fuel vehicle owners by implementing a surcharge of $100 per year. Raising the sales tax means that everyone will now pay for building and repairing roads they may not even use. Bicyclists and those who don't drive will pay the same as SUV drivers.

The gas tax was never enough to cover the cost of building and repairing roads, especially here in Fairfax. All taxpayers currently fund these additional costs through transportation bonds and other local taxes. We should be raising the gas tax to reduce that imbalance, not eliminating it.

One part of the plan that does make some sense: "Increase vehicle registration fees by $15 and dedicate the revenue to intercity passenger rail and transit." We would go further and dedicate a part of that $15 to funding bicycle and pedestrian projects. It's estimated that just under 10% of all trips are taken by walking and biking and yet only about 1% of transportation funds are devoted to those facilities.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth sums up concerns about this proposal "NO TAX ON GASOLINE? A TERRIBLE POLICY FOR TRANSPORTATION AND OUR ECONOMIC COMPETITIVENESS":
“The Governor’s proposal to eliminate all state taxes on gasoline isn’t bold, it’s terrible policy,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It would send exactly the wrong market signal. By removing a user fee under which those who drive more, pay more for the upkeep of our roads, the proposal could increase the amount of driving and the congestion on our roadways, undermining any additional investment the state might make in capacity expansion.”

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