Editorial: Virginia’s Road to the Past
Gov. Bob McDonnell wants Virginia to return to the days of plentiful, cheap gasoline in his new transportation plan, ironically titled "Virginia’s Road to the Future." It’s a flawed plan and one that will take Virginia down a road it doesn’t want to go.
His big idea: eliminating Virginia’s gas tax (already one of the lowest in the nation) and replacing the lost revenue with a hike in the sales tax, as well as an increased vehicle registration fee and a $100 annual tax for alternative fuel vehicles.
While motorists tired of out-of-control prices at the pump may welcome this as a much-needed reprieve, all it does is shift the burden. Money is still needed to repair and replace the state’s aging transportation infrastructure and Virginia taxpayers will still have to pay for it.
The gasoline tax makes sense. People who use the roads should have to pay for their upkeep. McDonnell himself recognized it in proposing the tax on alternative fuel vehicles. According to the governor’s own fact sheet on the plan:
"Drivers of alternative fuel vehicles that use natural gas or electricity pay no motor fuels tax at the state or federal level and thus do not contribute to the primary means of funding roads. However, these vehicles still have the same impact on Virginia’s roadways as conventional fuel vehicles."
And yet, in almost the same breath, he recommends removing the responsibility for contributing "the primary means of funding roads" from almost every other motorist … except for long-haul truckers and others who rely on diesel fuel. Does he see the irony in this?
The use of fossil fuels has often been compared to an addiction. President George W. Bush said as much in his 2006 State of the Union address. What McDonnell is proposing is equivalent to a dealer cutting the price of a narcotic. The result will be increased congestion on Virginia’s highways, causing a rise in the need for new roads and repairs to the crumbling infrastructure. And where will the tax dollars come for that?
For out-of-state drivers, it means that they won’t have to pick up the cost of using our roads.
Of course, there’s a chance that Virginia motorists won’t notice much of a change at all at the pump. Look at North Carolina. Our neighbor to the south has one of the nation’s highest gas taxes—39.15¢—while Virginia’s tax rate is 21.65 cents lower (17.5¢). Yet, according to AAA, as of Jan. 10, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in North Carolina is only 10.7¢ higher than Virginia. Where is that extra 11 cents going? Could it be that the oil companies are pocketing the difference? Do we want Virginia taxpayers to subsidize the price of fuel in other states?
Like the ill-fated "No Car Tax" slogan of his predecessor Jim Gilmore, McDonnell’s "No Gas Tax" plan will no doubt have a certain popular appeal.
Of course, no one likes to pay taxes. But the fact remains that we need the services (like roads) that government provides. A user fee to pay for those roads, through a gasoline tax, is the most fair and logical way to do it.