Not all is well for Gov. McDonnell’s transportation plan

If we are to believe the press releases coming from the Governor’s office, momentum is on the side of his transportation plan, with the realtors association joining the list of contractors, pavers, earth movers, transit fans and assorted chambers of commerce in favor of his proposal to ditch the gas tax in favor of a higher sales tax.

But outside association land, it’s a somewhat different story. The Wall Street Journal editorial page published this broadside against McDonnell’s idea, writing that his plan “violates the user pays principle of sound tax policy.” They conclude:

Mr. McDonnell’s plan mostly enriches the transportation lobby—transit unions, real-estate developers and the construction industry—while hurting motorists and taxpayers. Virginia lawmakers would be wise to reject it and think anew, as would transportation planners in other states.

And it appears some General Assembly conservatives have qualms about the Governor’s plan, too:

“Conservatives want to see taxes kept low,” said Delegate Ben Cline, R-Amherst, who co-chairs the caucus. “They want to see a plan in place that locks in transportation funding for transportation purposes and not diverted to other uses. And they want to make sure working families aren’t subjected to excessive fee hikes.”

Cline said he has conveyed his concerns about McDonnell’s transportation funding ideas to the governor. The caucus’ co-chair, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, criticized McDonnell’s reluctance to use a larger portion of Virginia’s $1.4 billion surplus over the last three years for transportation funding.

“We have long-standing promises that have been made by governors, current and past, to lock up our transportation trust fund,” Obenshain said. “We need to fulfill that promise so that voters in Virginia have confidence that our transportation funds are going to be dedicated to transportation, not diverted.”

Obenshain said he wasn’t opposed to raising taxes to fund transportation, as long as the burden would be shared by both Virginians and people from out of state.

So all is not well and settled with the transportation plan. That’s to be expected. McDonnell’s proposal represents a huge change in the way transportation would funded in this state. I suspect that as the session wears on, more questions, and harder opposition, will arise — as will the deal making.

But did you see that line from Sen. Obenshain? He isn’t opposed to raising taxes for transportation. Let the games begin!

  • That’s good to hear from the Senator. We need more funding for transportation and there are no easy places to find it. I also think the WSJ is all wet with the “user pays principle” – it should be “those who benefit pay.” And that’s everybody.

    • Brian–you keep beating this drum. Everyone ends up paying in the form of costs of goods they buy at the store.

      • But that is for goods delivered to the store. Why should someone not using roads pay an additional sales tax to subsidize those who do for their own conveniences and choices?

        • You’re still missing the point. Everyone uses roads. Period. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t benefit, at least indirectly, from roads. Even the Amish use roads.

      • No, they don’t. The cost in goods at the store covers the shipping cost, yes. That shipping cost may include the price of fuel, but it doesn’t cover the wear and tear on the roads. That money doesn’t go to the state, it goes to the shipper and the transporter. Folks who don’t drive don’t pay a direct fee for the benefit they receive of roads. Folks who drive pay both for their wear and tear and for everyone else’s.

        • David Obermark

          Yes they do. They pay the higher costs for their toilet paper as well as the meat and potatoes they eat every day based upon how much it costs to get these commodities to them.

          I own a trucking company. I am not going to truck the goods to the consumer unless I can make a profit.

          Perhaps I am shooting myself in the foot, but I will willingly sacrifice my foot in the name of sanity. If you are going to replace the fuel tax with a sales tax, it will make locally grown and produced products less competitive with those coming from out of state.

          I am going to disclose that my trucking company conducts interstate commerce. I will disclose that I anticipate I might personally benefit if the proposal is adopted. But I am gleefully yoked to following Jesus, and Jesus’s leadership says I need to worry about my fellow man.

          Just raise the fuel tax.

          • David Obermark

            I am going to double post.

            Dwight Eisenhower led the charge to reliance on fuel taxes to fund transportation. Ronald Reagan relied on an increase in the fuel tax to solve transportation issues while he was in office.

            But, suddenly, we have to resort to anything but a fuel tax increase. Well all the “buts” come up lacking. Just raise the darn fuel tax if Virginia needs more revenue. Based upon past experience, I will trust the money is well spent. “Just say NO” to all these lame brained alternative proposals to provide alternative funding.

            As our society increasingly adopts alternative fuels (and escapes fuel taxes) we might need to come up with alternative funding sources. However for now we are killing two birds with one stone. We are obtaining our funding source from the dwindling crude oil source while motivating the adoption of the alternatives. Supply and demand. With decreased demand comes decreased prices. The price might still go up, but perhaps not quite as quickly.

          • David Obermark

            Tripe post

            For those of you who say trucks do not pay their fair share? Go build a highway, let nobody travel on it, and then come back after ten years without maintenance and see what you have left.

            The real transportation challenges we face are not caused by the trucks tearing up the roads, the roads are supposed to be designed for that. The real problems are caused by all of them darn four wheelers causing all of the congestion. Them four wheelers want trucks to be restricted from the highways as if that is going to solve the problems they create.

            They want to keep them trucks off the road as if they do not need toilet paper.

          • That’s not political feasible, David, and you know it.

          • David, you know full well that as long as the sales taxes out of state are lower than those in-state, nothing grown or produced here is going to be less competitive. Come on.

  • Mike Barrett

    As soon as the Governor used the term bold for a plan so tepid it is revenue neutral to start, one had wonder, why waste the time and political capital? And when the WSJ headlines your plan as “Republican Road Folly” it can’t be a good sign. Fact is, the WSJ did not realize that the plan is so small that there would bound to be plenty of room for the tolls and privatization of highways that they prefer. But McDonnell’s initial efforts at privatization have been so roundly criticized for benefitting international conlomerates at the expense of motorists that he must be looking at other alternatives.

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