Transportation Tax Opponents: Not Ready for Prime Time?

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    by Paul Goldman

    With all due respect for the entire Republican Party ticket, they really aren’t ready for prime time based on their strategy for opposing the transportation tax package. Remember: We write about 200-proof strategy here, we don’t judge the merits, we just judge the strategy. Case in point: the amateurish way opponents of the transportation tax went about their game.

    Example: The media, sometimes on their own, sometimes with the help of the governor, have used their bully pulpit to sell the public on various “facts” such as the following two examples:

    1. “When the roads aren’t maintained, they [cost you big]…By one estimate, the typical motorist in Richmond pays an extra $343 per year on car repairs [and lower MPG] …because the roads are in such bad shape. If you drive 10,000 miles per year…[that’s their marker for a typical motorist]  that’s the equivalent of an 85-cent-per-gallon hike in the gasoline tax.” They call this a “hidden tax.”

    2. “Every year, Virginians have been paying a hidden transportation tax…failure to approve new transportation funding, and the resulting congestion, cost every motorist in Northern Virginia $1,400 a year; every driver in Virginia Beach $877 a year; and every commuter in Richmond $581 a year.” (source)

    To repeat: These are quotes, either from the governor’s tax supporters or from the governor himself. Transportation tax opponents never refuted them.

    But think about them for a moment. If you do about 5 minutes worth of checking checking on how many cars go about 10,000 miles a year in Virginia – go to the DMV website then go to USDOT and get to the highway folks – it is conservative to use about 4 million vehicles as your base number calculation. The Richmond area has about 1/8 of the state’s population. If you add 343 + 581, this gives you 924. There is some overlap in these two numbers based on the claims above but not much since Richmond doesn’t have the kind of congestion as Tidewater and NOVA.

    So let’s use the number $700, surely conservative. 1/8 of 4 million = 500,000. Multiply that by $700 and you get, according to the guv and his media backers, a savings of $350 million EVERY YEAR to Richmond area motorists. But you say: Is the typical motorist really always a commuter as in the governor’s claim? Surely most of them are, that’s how people get to work, that’s how they get 10,000 miles on their car. There is roughly 1 car per person in Virginia, about 1.4 vehicles per holder of a DMV driver’s license.

    But okay, we will discount the $350 million figure down to $300 million. Happy now? Remember, this is only based on half the vehicles in the area on a rough basis.  So, according to His Excellency and his media posses, Richmonders are getting a great bargain. For what he says is somewhere between $20-$30 extra taxes per typical motorist per year, his tax plan is going to save them $570 a year in constant dollars. NOT BAD.

    You say: Gee, why isn’t he selling this as the biggest tax cut in state history. After all, he says the $600 a year they are paying extra now due to the roads ($300 million in savings/500,000 typical motorists) as really a hidden transportation tax. My response: Yes, why not if it is true?

    Now let’s run the numbers for NOVA but a different way. According to His Excellency and posse, the average commuter is paying $1,400 a year due to congestion. Now, let’s add in the $343 for car repairs and MPG loss as in Richmond since this should be less in NOVA, since the congestion is worse. But you say: Come on Paul, there could be some double counting. My response: Okay, I get that, let’s cut the 343 TO 170, that seems fair right?

    So, we will use $1,570 in savings according to the governor and his posse. Sounds GREAT for just paying what he says would be maybe $70 per typical motorist in higher taxes. The govenror and posses claim they will save the typical NOVA commuter at least $1,500 A YEAR, that’s even better than Jim Gilmore’s “No More Car Tax” scam.

    But let’s think further: According to the governor and his supporters, they used the 10,000 miles for a typical motorist in Richmond. Statistically, we can use that for NOVA, it is fair for analysis purposes based on DMV and USDOT stats. Let’s assume the typical motorist has a car getting 20 MPG. That’s 500 gallons a year. At $3.60 average a gallon, that is $1,800 a year to operate the car.

    If you go to the DMV website, you can find all kinds of hints on how to save money on operating your car by making sure your tires are inflated, etc, things that don’t cost money. SO: It costs $1,800 for gas. You deduct the net $1,500 in savings from the new taxes, you got to deduct a $200 minimum for all the free DMV tips. So you are down to 100 bucks to run your car thanks to the governor and his posse. Hell with the Saudis and Big Oil right? A hundred bucks? Mark Warner pays more for that for a tie!

    Plus: What about the gas discounts from the grocery cards, the savings on certain days like Senator Saslaw’s gas places offer? Heck: If you do it right, THE GOVERNOR AND HIS POSSE ARE GIVING YOU A FREE CAR FOR LIFE. This is like…huge for hybrid and electric car owners: and they didn’t even want to pay a few more bucks for a registration fee. What greedy SOBs; the governor is saving them huge, and they force the guy to eat crow. Really!

    Plus there is more. If you look on the VA Tax Dept. website, you can find that the total Sales/Use Tax collected from the state part of this tax is about $3.2 billion. Some of that is, of course, from out-of-state folks. The governor says 10%. Okay, let’s use $3 billion even. Now, how much of these taxes are paid by typical motoring commuters who are about to save all this money thanks to the GUV and friends? We assumed about half of the cars would qualify but there are two drivers in many. So let’s assume we are talking about 70% of these taxes being paid by the soon to be very happy typical motorists getting all the savings as the governor gets rid of those hidden taxes.

    0.7 x 3.0 = $2.1 billion they are paying to the state for the state’s part of the tax.  Plus: Just to be fair, let’s also add in the new 0.3 percentage point increase, which is technically a transportation thing, but we want to be fair. These same calculations would say the motorists are going to contribute $300 million more. That’s $2.4 billion they are paying to Uncle Sugar – I mean Uncle Bob – and his posse.

    BUT: Uncle Bob and company say they are going to save you….$2.4 billion!!! That’s right: Remember, we found $300 million in savings in the aggregate for Richmond. Tidewater and NOVA commuting costs are way higher according to the guv and his posses. They make up about 2/3 of the rest of the state in this analysis. Rural costs will be lower than Richmond on congestion, but not repair and a lot of those mountain and other roads are in bad shape too.

    Bottom line: Let’s use the Richmond number – $300 million – for the entire rest of the state, which would be roughly the remaining 7/8 of the state given that I was using a 1 million people area for my Richmond analysis.  That is to say: $300 x 8 = $2.4 billion in savings to all the Virginia motoring public of commuters who will benefit from the tax hikes the most.

    THAT’S A WASH! Meaning: From now on, we get our roads for free! relative to the state part of the sales tax. Whatever we may pay in this sales tax we get back in savings on operating our cars everywhere in the Commonwealth. Who said there isn’t a free lunch, or a free ride or free superhighways anywhere in Virginia? I ask you: Why take mass transit, it costs money, when you can driver for free, in terms of the state part of the sales tax?

    And remember: If you implement all cost savings suggested by DMV or car driving gurus, DMV, you actually MAKE MONEY DRIVING according to Uncle Bob and posse again relative to the sales tax the are raising at the state level. Those savings can be you a ride on the NASCAR circuit. What’s not to like? What is Cuccinelli, Ben Cline, my partner Joe Morrissey, the whole Republican ticket most likely, the entire conservative movement apparently, you go down the list of people who are against having millions of Virginians drive for free….

    In fact, since they already owe the $2.4 billion in terms of the state portion of the sales and use tax, they are again getting $2.4 billion in savings for just $300 million in more taxes. In fact, I think this is only fair: We should all agree to take all those savings and agree to give it to a fund to build the multi-billion dollar “Road To Nowhere” the governor is forcing on Southside against the advice of his own experts. It is hugely costly and totally unjustified according to the same experts he cites in support of his tax plan.

    Come on: It is only one year of savings, let’s build a monument to Bob the Builder. He deserves it according to these figures, unrefuted.

    What was he thinking anyway, free booze, free oil rigs: a free ride, that’s the American dream since the Model-T. Heck with his nickel cut on gas tax, that’s going to Big Oil anyway, it is too small a number to trace.

    For a little more on the sales tax, I get a free ride for life! The same for my spouse, my children, even the losing candidate for GUV, LG and AG gets it: same for Bill Bolling.

    You mean we could have been doing this under Wilder and Warner and Kaine?

    Free commuting in NOVA!  

    I personally apologize to everyone. Uncle Bob has shown a way to look at numbers that…well…

    Sorry Doug and Mark and Tim…never saw it.

    Warner said his tax plan would also actual be a big savings.

    Really: It is wonder we Virginians have to pay anything by now!

    “No More Rent!” should be the campaigh slogan this year. “No More Downpayment.”

    If you double the income tax rate, and do a little this and that, I think this is possible.

    Like we say at 200-proof: This is how campaign strategy is done. There are always a way to explain your position to get folks listening to agree with you even if they actually don’t. Humor is the best way to disarm everyone. These numbers just prove the point: What’s that book, “Lies, Damn lies, and statistics.”

    The governor smartly seized on some made up numbers, his supporters did too, and used them to run over the opposition. Uncle Bob ain’t raising taxes, he is cutting them! He is saving you and me and the Virginian behind the tree $Billions!

    GUV, I apologize: I didn’t realize it, really I didn’t, an honest mathematical thing, forget all those degrees, the online calculators, maybe I need some of that supplement Star Scientific is selling, can you get a case cheap? First, they had no addictive tobacco. Now they can fix mental loss due to aging. I will need that or I will lose my license and then lose my free ride.

    Uncle Bob has been looking out for me. First  cheaper booze, no more ABC store government run stuff. I didn’t appreciate that. Then free roads due to off-shore oil royalities. I didn’t appreciate that.

    Then No Tax roads, built by toll roads every ten feet on the North Carolina border. But I didn’t appreciate that either.

    But finally: I get it. More equals less: I pay more taxes, I get 8X the savings, a free ride for life.

    Governor, are you also throwing in free 100000 miles maintanence too, I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but this would help.

    This is 200-proof politics: You seize the initiative and keep pumping out whatever it takes to hold your offensive line.

    “At Uncle Bob’s, You Drive Free, for Life!” He should have been in the used car business. Or maybe he is.  

    Whatever the polls, I repeat: Terry’s campaign is ready for prime time, The whole GOP ticket is not. They don’t even do their basic research.

    If the actual campaign matters, this is not going to be even close.

    With the New Jersey Gov race already a done deal, 200 proof may have to close down the bar early this year.