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Editorial: Transportation Money

Eliminating the gas tax makes no sense.

Virginia, and especially Northern Virginia, is woefully short on funds for transportation. One reason is that its gas tax, a logical way to fund transportation infrastructure, is one of the lowest in the nation, and has remained flat since the ’80s, since it is not indexed for inflation. So the buying power of the gas tax has been dwindling.

It seems obvious that one way to fix this is to allow it to rise with inflation, or change it to a percentage of the price of a gallon of fuel. Tying road funding to gas consumption is a logical connection, and the increase encourages conservation and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Instead, Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed eliminating the gas tax, replacing the funding with an increase in the sales tax plus a plan to shift money from other state spending, like education, human services and public safety, to transportation.

With considerable agreement that Virginia needs about $1 billion a year to pay roads and transit, this proposal would raise about one-third of that.

Part of the Governor’s plan also calls for $100 annual fee on vehicles that use alternative fuels.

Raising the sales tax to pay for roads is particularly unfair to the many residents of Northern Virginia who have chosen to live in Arlington, Alexandria and other areas that are walkable and provide easy access to public transit.

Penalizing drivers of hybrid and electric vehicles by charging them more than six times what other vehicles pay is not in the best interests of anyone who breathes the air in Virginia, and is a stark slap at innovation.

The entire proposal makes about as much sense as forcing a select few Northern Virginia residents, the drivers on the Dulles Toll Road, to almost single-handedly pay for rail to Dulles. Dulles airport is one of the key economic drivers for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Building rail to serve the airport is an economic investment that will have broad benefits in revenue for the state. A disproportionately small amount of that revenue will make it back to Northern Virginia. So it is welcome that the Governor’s proposal calls for diverting some of the “new” transportation money to Dulles rail.

The current proposal would make Virginia the only state without a gas tax. It seems unwise for a state with such dramatic transportation deficits to abandon the one source of funding that makes sense. More money is needed; that requires addition, not subtraction.