VA Democrats Don’t Like McDonnell’s Transportation Plan, Offer Something Strikingly Similar

January 16, 2013

Last week, my colleague Joe Henchman and I authored a blog post on Virginia Governor McDonnell’s new transportation plan, and we’ve since been quoted in various local and national media on the subject. Our main criticism is that McDonnell’s plan, which would eliminate the statewide 17.5 cent per gallon gas excise tax and replace it with a 0.8 percentage hike in the sales tax, would disconnect drivers with the road services they use.

After releasing our analysis, Joe and I were excited to see that we have a few allies on the progressive side on this issue. Reuters posted a story featuring Henchman and ITEP’s Carl Davis in lock step on McDonnell’s plan, with Davis quoted as saying, “when it comes to highway policy, it’s important to follow the ‘benefits principle’ of taxation: people who use the roads the most should be required to pay the most for those roads.  It’s a basic issue of fairness.”

Today, I’m very troubled to learn of Virginia Democrats’ plan for transportation in Virginia, which largely goes against ITEP’s advice. The good news is that their plan would raise the gas tax by 10 cents over the next two years, and then index the tax to inflation thereafter, devoting that revenue to transportation funding. The bad news is that the plan would even more aggressively hike the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, with half of the new sales tax revenue going to transportation and the other half going to public education.

Ideally, road funding should come from a combination of tolls and gasoline taxes. That way, drivers who use roads most pay a roughly proportionate share of the costs of providing the roads. Tolls are better than gas taxes in this regard, as they eliminate problems with cross border gasoline shopping that can skew the user-pays/user-benefits system. By contrast, funding transportation out of general revenue sources makes roads “free,” and non-drivers or infrequent drivers pay a disproportionate share of road funding. The result is overuse, increased congestion and more frequent road repairs. As a Virginia native, I know that these things are the last thing the Commonwealth needs.

As a small side note, Virginia’s 5 percent general sales tax is one of the most competitive in the region, and these gimmicks by both parties would diminish that competitive edge.

More on Virginia here.

Follow Scott Drenkard on Twitter @ScottDrenkard.

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