Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s latest transportation funding proposal gets some things right: it begins to prioritize transportation spending while eliminating the gasoline tax.
But the truth is that most Democrats and too many Republicans in the legislature do not share Gov. McDonnell’s prioritization of Virginia’s transportation needs. Surprisingly, many of those opposed to making transportation a real priority hail from Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region, where transportation problems are most acute. The pressure imposed by these intransigent legislators has so far prevented a plan that addresses Virginia’s transportation funding problems in a fiscally sustainable manner and does not grow the overall tax burden.
The plan as it stands now fails in its goal to prioritize transportation spending while avoiding tax increases. In the coming days, taxpayers expect legislators to work to protect Virginia families. To achieve a transportation funding bill that rejects tax increases, Americans for Tax Reform recommends the following:
- Lower the size of the new additional sales tax component intended to replace the gas tax to one that avoids tax increases on Virginians;
- Include the termination of the diesel tax along with the state gas tax;
- Either eliminate the $15 car registration “fee” increase or accurately include its new revenues as taxes and reduce taxes elsewhere;
- Further prioritize state spending by allocating a greater share of General Fund revenues toward Virginia’s infrastructure needs, as the Governor has repeatedly proposed, notwithstanding the obstinate refusal to date of a handful of anti-taxpayer Republicans in the senate to support this sustainable approach.
At the same time, there is the danger that this plan could become an even worse deal for Virginia taxpayers as it moves through the legislative process. In the past, particularly in the senate, anti-taxpayer Republicans like Sen. Maj. Leader Tommy Norment, Sen. Frank Wagner, and Sen. John Watkins have worked with Democrats to hijack sound, tax-neutral, pro-growth transportation funding proposals to turn them into tax hikes to fund their pet projects.
By their actions, this tax-increase cohort has repeatedly told Virginians that transportation funding is their lowest priority. By funding everything else the government does first, leaving no room left for basic transportation needs, these members’ actions reveal what their rhetoric obscures. They will only meet this core function of government after every spending interest in Richmond is served.
Since Mark Warner’s dishonesty some three governors ago (running against tax hikes and misstating Virginia revenues to promote them), these members have conspired to scuttle any real reform in transportation funding, instead raising taxes that somehow never reach their stated target. Meanwhile, years later, the structural hurdles that facilitate the raiding of Virginia’s revenues for other purposes continues unabated. More tax increases simply cannot solve Virginia’s transportation problems—only statutory (or constitutional) reform that allows proper allocation of its resources can keep Virginia moving without sacrificing its engine of economic growth.
This session, Americans for Tax Reform hopes that Senators Norment, Wagner, and Watkins will this time work with their Republican colleagues in the house and senate to craft a sustainable, plan which addresses Virginia’s transportation needs and is not a Trojan Horse for higher taxes.
The fact is Virginia does not have a revenue problem; it has a problem prioritizing spending.