We all now have been subjected to yet another “transportation plan” from Bob McDonnell. I’ve lost count on whether it’s the third or fourth. This time there is no reliance on mythical oil rigs off Virginia Beach, no imaginary tolls on roads leading into Virginia from North Carolina, no giving away the state’s wholesale alcohol system to private FOB (friends of Bob). This time we have a simpler “plan”: billions of dollars in debt for our children and grandchildren to pay, a tripling of the retail outlets that sell liquor, and tapping the General Fund for $140 million.
I agree with Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “What are they thinking?”
Expert after expert has looked at the debacle that is Virginia’s transportation system and concluded the same thing. In order to correct the delays and deficiencies in transportation, the state needs at least $1 billion annually for the foreseeable future. The state budget is in such a mess that the General Assembly “balanced” the current budget and created the imaginary “surplus” that McDonnell also wants the spend by borrowing 2/3 of a billion dollars from the state retirement fund, replacing it with an IOU due after McDonnell leaves office. How can anyone then justify taking another $140 million out of the already depleted General Fund that is used for schools, police protection, necessary social services, etc.?
Republicans have reached the inevitable end of their adamant assertion that they will never raise revenue to pay for vital services. Infrastructure ages, Virginia’s population grows. It is obvious to most people, if not to GOPers, that transportation must have a dedicated source of additional revenue. We cannot borrow ourselves out of this mess, nor can we get out of it by shortchanging other state services. Indeed, we might not be in this big of a mess if another Republican governor, Jim Gilmore, hadn’t pushed through his idiotic “no car tax” plan that presently costs the state $950 million every year.
Even the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, normally a group that would be friendly to Republican notions of taxation, is pushing for new revenue sources for transportation.
The Chamber rightly states, “To remain globally competitive, Virginia’s lawmakers must consider a range of innovative, long-term and sustainable solutions to meet Virginia’s transportation challenges. With an estimated transportation shortfall conservatively estimated to be $1 billion a year and growing, all funding mechanisms must be carefully evaluated free of preconceived, partisan excuses for failing to act.”
The chamber supports raising the gasoline tax to adjust for inflation since 1986, a feasibility study to look at transitioning from a fuels tax to a vehicle miles traveled tax, and permanent funding for passenger rail capital improvement and operation, among other positions.
I personally can think of another place state government might look to get more revenue to meet the serious underfunding of transportation, K-12 and higher education, and social services – tax expenditures, or tax breaks given to various groups that lower state revenue.
The reimbursement to localities for the local personal property (i.e., car) tax costs almost $1 billion every year. Eliminating the inheritance tax on large estates meant that Virginia now receives $140 million less each year. Also, Virginia is legally able, if it wishes, to “decouple” itself from the federal ban on sales taxes on Internet sales, an action that would gain $157 million annually, plus provide more local revenue. (These figures come from a report by the Commonwealth Institute, a non-partisan research group.)
No, we don’t need to borrow our way out of our transportation crisis. We can’t continue to raid the General Fund. We certainly cannot further raid the Virginia Retirement System, which has seen the state underfund its share for 16 of the past 20 years.
We do need for the Republicans to think outside of that absurd “no tax” box they have put themselves – and us – in. Either that, or they need to admit that they aren’t capable of properly governing the state, or of making hard decisions.