Grover wades into the gas tax debate

Virginia’s press corps is in tall cotton: Grover Norquist has inserted himself into the pre-debate over a proposed gas tax increase.

In a letter intended entirely for public consumption, Norquist says the tax idea floated by Republican John Watkins (but that my sources say will actually be introduced by another GOP Senator) is nothing more than “a job-killing tax increase.”

But he does leave the worthies some wiggle room: “…voting to index the gas tax to inflation,without any complete offsets, would be in clear violation of the promise you made to your constituents and the people of Virginia to oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes.” (emphasis mine)

The lure of this offset option may be part of the reason why Gov. McDonnell is sending emissaries to Grover. If they can strike a deal, then no harm done to the would-be pledge breakers and Virginians get to pay more at the pump. Everybody wins!

Except for those folks in the House of Delegates who aren’t keen on the idea of raising the gas tax at all. Some House members are more keen on diverting a greater portion of the sales tax to roads. While this is mixing revenue apples with user fee oranges, and will upset the defenders of other government programs, it does have one benefit: it forces a choice.

But choices are hard and few legislators want to earn the VEA’s wrath. So what are the options?

I come back to something simple: trade a gas tax hike for full elimination of the car tax. Some folks really dislike this idea. But regardless of what the tax is called, or into which account the monies are deposited, their ultimate source is still you. And unlike others, my pocket is not bottomless.

There is one other thing to consider…

Back during the Kaine years, there was a great deal of talk about locking up the transportation trust fund so that any monies deposited there would remain beyond the reach of grasping legislators. Nothing happened.

A bit later, in 2009, there were bills from Sen. Steve Martin and Dels. Glenn Oder and Bob Marshall to put a lock box on the TTF, but, owing to a bit of bipartisan senatorial maneuvering, the bills died when the worthies decided to put lock boxes on both the TTF and the general fund. You know, as a way to ensure that no general fund money found its way into transportation and vice versa.

Since then, nothing has happened.

I suggest we breathe some life back into this idea. In this session. And lash it firmly to any and every proposal to increase the gas tax.