Want a gas tax hike? Then eliminate the car tax

I was on WRVA in Richmond this morning with Jimmy Barrett talking about the proposals for a hike in the state’s gas tax and, as much as it pains my anti-tax soul, it does appear that all the stars are aligning for an increase of some sort.

This creates a problem, not only for those Republicans who have vowed before God and Grover that tax hikes are wrong, but for those Republicans seeking statewide office. On the one hand, the press will mau-mau them into backing a hike because our roads are crumbling to dust and failure to increase taxes now means plagues and poverty in the future. On the other, the ambitious Republican pol who supports a tax hike that will show up almost immediately at the pump then must explain to folks how it’s all for their own good. Once you start explaining, you start losing.

To prevent an epidemic of flop sweat and pulled muscles, I propose this:

In exchange for an increase in the gas tax, demand the full elimination of the car tax.

This keeps the focus on transportation — gas, cars and the fees and taxes attached to both — as opposed to Sen. Watkins’ income tax cut for some Virginians.

The state capped car tax relief when the economy soured. Governor McDonnell has said he would like the tax to go away, but has been waiting for the state’s economic climate to improve.

The economy has improved somewhat since he made that statement in 2010. And with Senate Republicans cracking on a gas tax increase, to the glee and delight of tax-philic Democrats, the right thing to do is offer them the deal: you get your gas tax, if the car tax finally dies.

The biggest winner under such a deal could be Bob McDonnell. He gets behind a deal that puts more money into roads, but kills a hated tax. Greater political legacies have been built on much smaller foundations.

The losers? State Democrats, who would, reflexively, argue that the car tax cannot be eliminated under any circumstances. They are left on the hook, then, for favoring a tax increase and the continuation of a tax no one likes.

In short, they would have to start explaining. And once they start explaining, they start losing.