Richmond Monday evening in Richmond, we witnessed something that has been in short supply — bipartisanship. The deep flaws in the Governor's transportation proposal united Democrats and Republicans in opposition to an unprecedented statewide tax increase and de-facto funding cuts to health, education and public safety. Even under the best case scenario laid out by the Governor, these cuts would not raise enough money for Virginia’s roads. Together, we proposed solutions that would find fair sources of revenue, empower regions to find local transportation solutions, and leave the general fund intact. Unfortunately, most of the proposals that would have improved the plan failed.
Many of my colleagues agree that complete elimination of the gas tax in exchange for an increase in the sales tax is not a good policy decision. Simply, we are not at a crisis level when it comes to revenues from the sales tax because of fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles. There are currently only 91,000 alternative fuel vehicles, which make up less than 1.5 percent of Virginia’s vehicles. Additionally, according to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle fuel use per year in Virginia actually increased by 7.8 percent from 1987 to 2010, and gas tax revenues have increased by more than 81 percent since the gas tax was last increased in 1987. Moreover, the Governor's own transportation briefing projects that growth will continue for at least the next five years.
The plan excluded real alternatives for regional funding. It contained only provisions for a review and report near the end of the year. This is not good enough. Everyone is aware the state’s biggest transportation needs exist where population is growing, in what is known as the Urban Crescent — Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads regions. The transportation plan fails to give these regions authority to raise local revenue for transportation. This is an issue that has been discussed and worked on by delegations of elected officials from these regions. However, there still seems to be a reluctance to include a real and tangible plan to address regional needs. A review and report is not good enough. The time to act is now, before areas driving our economy are further impacted.
The bottom line is that this is bad policy. In addition to reliance on Congress to pass legislation for the collection of a large portion of these funds in the Governor’s plan, I cannot in good conscience raise taxes on the backs of my constituents in a patently unfair and regressive way. I hope you will stand with me in the coming weeks as we fight for better solutions that will meet our needs and not unfairly burden those who value the environment by using alternative fuels or by choice, economic or otherwise, elect to use transit. It’s been a quarter century since we raised the gas tax, and 17.5 cents buys less than half as much today as it did then. But it stills buys something. Clearly we need examine our needs and our revenues, but we must do it without siphoning money away from our schools, hospitals, and police.
Charniele Herring (D-46) represents Alexandria City in the Virginia General Assembly and serves as the House Minority Whip. For more information, visit www.charnieleherring.com or on twitter @c_herring.