To the Editor:
Virginia is no longer “the best state [in which] to do business.” We lost that coveted designation when the state leadership made national headlines and punch lines by focusing on their social agenda instead of our dwindling transportation resources. If we continue to neglect the problem, our transportation construction money, including our federal matching funds, will be depleted in 2017.
Governor McDonnell has called for new revenue. The centerpiece of his transportation plan is a proposal to eliminate the gas tax and replace it with additional sales tax. The plan diverts general fund revenue that supports education, public health and public safety to transportation, and raises vehicle fees, especially on alternative fuel vehicles. The plan also assumes tax revenue for transportation from a bill that has not yet been introduced in Congress, let alone passed. This ephemeral revenue source alone counts for more than one third of the funds in the governor’s plan.
We have been talking about transportation funding shortfalls in Virginia for a generation, and the governor made the issue a priority in his 2009 campaign. His plan has been called “bold” by its champions. But bold is not the same as wise. If the governor got every cent of funds in his wish list, in five years we would have less than half the funds we need for transportation funding today.
Legislators, including members of the governor’s own Caucus have offered competing plans or even downright criticism, including the no-tax disciples of Grover Norquist. Nine northern Virginia legislators—including local delegate Barbara Comstock—have taken the “No Tax Pledge.” How do they reconcile their pledge with our need for more transportation money and congestion relief?
Meanwhile, legislators in the current session are calling for more graduates from our colleges and universities, smaller class sizes for K-12 students, armed guards in schools, and improved mental health support and awareness. As we add these responsibilities to our general fund requirements, where will we siphon off funds for transportation?
Despite calls for reducing dependency on foreign oil the governor proposes a $100 annual fee for vehicles that are cleaner and use less fuel. Why punish good practices?
Arguments against the proposals to eliminate the gas tax and replace it with a sales tax have been aired on these editorial pages (“Transportation Money”, January 16-22). But the essential question remains: Why should we forego a “user fee” gas tax, shared broadly beyond Virginia, and depend primarily instead on a tax that falls squarely on Virginia citizens?
State leaders recently announced that the federal and state transportation construction revenue is forecast to be down by over $700 million over the next five years. We need new revenue for transportation that we can count on—approximately $1 billion annually statewide—and we need to know that funding our infrastructure does not come at the expense of our education system, the key to our future workforce and continued prosperity.
Now that the governor has renewed the call for transportation funding, a good place to seek common ground might be the 2007 transportation legislation that passed both houses of the legislature. With some adjustments we might get something for everyone, including revenue that stays where it is generated! The “No Tax” crowd might object, but their pledge is their priority instead of our prosperity.
Our northern Virginia citizens and business leaders want to earn back our “best state to do business” label. We know what it means to our communities. We know that if we are short-changing our own transportation and education needs, we are neither pro-business nor pro-jobs. Working together, we can solve transportation funding problems that have not been successfully resolved in a generation, but we need dedicated, sustainable revenue, and we need it soon.
Achieving that would be bold!
Margaret G. Vanderhye
Former State Delegate