Streams

Va. Gov's Plan to End Gas Tax Goes Before Committee

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 01:55 PM

Workers complete one span of the track for the Silver Line to Dulles Airport. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing a new structure to fund large state transportation projects. (Photo by Armando Trull/WAMU)

(Washington, DC - WAMU) A legislative committee in the Virginia House of Delegates will take up Governor Bob McDonnell's $3 billion transportation funding plan Wednesday. The governor expects his bill will go before the full House and Senate next week.

McDonnell's proposal has been picked apart since its unveiling three weeks ago, but he still says it's the best plan out there. McDonnell insists increasing the gas tax would be politically impossible, which is why he has recommended eliminating the gas tax and replacing it with a higher sales tax to fund transportation.

"I can only tell you that the poll that was done last week by two independent sources said that 2-1, Virginians favored this approach over tax increases," McDonnell said. "So I think I've found the right economic and political model that can actually get the job done and can pass."

Virginia would be the first state to eliminate its gas tax, dumping what has become a rule of transportation funding: use the roads, pay the tax that's supposed to maintain them. But it's not outrageous — it's just different, says Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.

"We are one of the few nations on earth that uses gas taxes to directly fund transportation," he says. "Most countries have much higher gas taxes than we do, which sends a signal to users and discourages gasoline consumption and encourages smaller vehicles and more public transportation. So they have much higher gas taxes than we do but they don't dedicate that money to transportation."

But Schank calls the governor's plan 'inconsistent' because it maintains a user fee on trucks by continuing the diesel tax and a user fee for electric vehicles by increasing the registration fee to $100.

"And then he's getting rid of the so-called user fee for passenger vehicles by getting rid of the gas tax," he says. "It's not a strategy based on thoughtful analysis about how we should be paying for our transportation system."

Schank acknowledges the governor has to deal with political realities. McDonnell says neither the General Assembly nor Virginia residents want to pay more at the pump.

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