The long and winding road to a reasonable transportation plan for Virginia inched a step closer to passage in the General Assembly on Tuesday after the Senate Finance Committee voted 9-6 to move the revised transportation bill to the full senate.
The bill, if passed, would place a 1 percent tax on the wholesale price of gas, raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents per gallon (doesn’t it seem like that’s happened already!?), and raise registration fees for vehicles that would create funds for transit, roads, and rail transportation.
The entire package could produce an estimated $4.5 billion in Virginia-wide transportation revenue over five years. The $4.5 billion total would be supplemented by an additional $1 billion if the U.S. Congress passes legislation to allow states to collect sales taxes from online retailers. First, though, how about Virginia prove it can actually spend the money it has now on transportation wisely before we feed this inexhaustible transportation monster another $1 billion?
For his part, Gov. McDonnell seemed unwilling to accept the revised transportation bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee. McDonnell said that the proposal passed Tuesday “is much different in scope from our original proposal, although it contains several key elements.” McDonnell said further, “it is important to remember today’s action is not a final bill. Instead, it simply advanced the process of passing a final transportation plan to the next step.”
One of the key contentions in this never-ending legislative battle over transportation funding is whether or not the gas tax should remain. Senators in both political parties have expressed their support for some kind of gas tax. If the proposal is completely pushed through the General Assembly as it is now, the gas tax would increase to 22.5 cents per gallon.
The Democrats have made the best argument for retaining and increasing the gas tax and not increasing the state sales tax and bleeding off some of that revenue for transportation. What sense does it make to increase taxes on consumers when the point is to change the behaviors of commuters in the commonwealth?
Regardless of how many new lanes or roads are built in Virginia, the best solution is simply decreasing the number of cars on the road, period.
Until Virginians have an incentive to carpool, take public transportation, or simply drive less as appropriate, transportation will remain a major issue in Virginia, especially as population increases in the commonwealth.