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McDonnell's insane transportation plan: no gas tax

We knew there would be some nutty proposals in the Virginia legislature this year, and some serious attempts to fix transportation funding, but Governor Bob McDonnell managed to stun everyone yesterday with a real doozy: eliminate the gas tax entirely. Seriously.


Gas pump in Winfall, VA by nannetteturner on Flickr.

Virginia sorely needs money for transportation. While McDonnell is borrowing $3 billion from the future to fund a few mega-road projects (many also unnecessary and wasteful), there isn't enough money to keep maintaining existing roads and bridges, or fund 8-car trains on Metro to relieve Rush Plus overcrowding, or build light rail Northern Virginia needs.

Virginia's gas tax is also one of the lowest in the nation. It brings in less money per gallon of gas, adjusted for inflation, than anytime in history, and is less than half in real dollars what it was in 1933. That's why a lot of Virginia legislators are calling for real action on transportation this year.

Even a few Republicans are maybe interested in finding a tortured path around their promises not to ever raise taxes, like Delegate Dave Albo's not-entirely-insane idea to raise the gas tax but give Virginia residents an income tax break to offset it.

Jim Titus suggested Virginia consider a variant of a proposal Maryland debated last year, to extend some or all of the sales tax to gasoline instead of raising the gas tax. Gas is exempt from the sales tax, which means that while the gas tax raises some revenue, the state's general fund loses the revenue that would have come from taxing the sale of that gas just like it taxes housewares or computers or anything else.

McDonnell's plan takes the opposite tack. He would eliminate the gas tax entirely, but also keep exempting gas from the sales tax. He said, "That's right, no more gas tax at the pump. No sales tax at the pump either."

The state would then collect no money at all on people buying gas, even though it collects money from people buying most anything else. It even has a sales tax on groceries, unlike DC and Maryland. This means you would pay something for buying grapes and ginger but not gasoline.

But wait, isn't McDonnell's plan a transportation funding plan? McDonnell would then raise the sales tax by 0.8 cents on the dollar. This would bring in $183 million a year by 2018, but less now. Meanwhile, many people say the state needs about $1 billion a year for transportation. Fairfax County alone says they need $300 million a year. The Washington Post calls the revenue from this plan "paltry."

Governor McDonnell proposes dedicating the first $300 million the sales tax raises to the Silver Line. He's certainly doing this to try to win the votes of northern Virginia legislators. But the state should already have been providing at least $500 million or more for this project years ago. McDonnell, instead, withheld the money and now is trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

This is insane

This is not just a silly proposal or, like most from the tax-phobic Virginia Republicans, ineffective. It's actually deeply harmful.

While it raises a small amount of revenue, it more significantly shifts the burden of paying for transportation away from people using transportation and onto everyone. Don't have a car? Except for the car tax, you will still pay for Virginia roads as much as everyone else. Live close to your job? Too bad, you pay the same as someone with a 50-mile commute.

It's notable that McDonnell didn't propose making transit free. If we're talking radical ideas, how about that? It's a close equivalent to having no gas tax, as road users pay some (but not all) the cost of road maintenance through the gas tax (and Virginia covers other costs with revenue from other sources), and transit users pay some (but not all) the cost of transit through fares.

Virginia's gas taxes also have a regional impact. Some people already prefer to buy gasoline in Virginia versus DC or Maryland because it's cheaper. If Virginia goes for McDonnell's idea, the gap between Virginia gas prices and DC and Maryland gas prices would widen. More people would buy gas in Virginia. Some would even drive out of their way to go to a gas station in Virginia, making traffic even worse.

But for all that, the state wouldn't even benefit one bit. When Virginia steals companies away from DC and Maryland with corporate tax breaks, it's a net loss for the whole region, but at least from Virginia's point of view there's an upside in that they get other revenue. This doesn't have an upside, except possibly a very tenuous general attraction for a few people to live in Virginia because of the gas taxes; but if any of those people exist, they drive a lot, meaning they'll worsen traffic for everyone else.

There's more

Besides the sales tax, there are a few other elements to the proposal.

It would raise vehicle registration fees by $15 per year and allocate 50% to transit and 50% to intercity rail, raising about $109 million per year. The latter portion would fund commitments the state has already made for expanded Virginia Amtrak service.

Another element is to charge alternative fuel vehicles $100 per year. McDonnell's argument is that since these use less gas, they should contribute to the costs of road maintenance. But it's particularly ironic that he's looking to have these vehicles pay for road maintenance while exempting regular gas-guzzlers.

Finally, McDonnell is hoping Congress will pass the Marketplace Equity Act, which lets states charge sales taxes on online purchases. But it's very dubious to count on this bill, as observers think it has only a small chance of passing. Plus, absent the Governor's plan, this bill could give Virginia money it also needs for education, public safety, and other priorities.

McDonnell has somehow managed to come up with one of the worst transportation funding plans conceivable. It's even worse than doing nothing, and doing nothing should not be an option. The legislature needs to laugh him out of the room and either come up with something better, or hope that the next governor has better sense.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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are we absolutely sure the sales tax will not be applied to gasoline? The media is silent, and the governors statement does not mention it - it does say the cost of gas would go down, but I think even at the 5.8% rate that would be a cut from the current in rem gas tax.

Doing a spreadsheet on the whole thing could provide the answer, if anyone cares to.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

One argument anti-gas-tax folks try to make is that even if you don't have a car, you benefit from roads because delivery trucks and other essential services use roads. So, the gas tax is somehow unfair because car-free or car-lite folks aren't paying their fair share to support roads.

However, this is a specious argument because all those delivery trucks pay gas tax (although probably not a sufficient tax to compensate for the extra wear-and-tear they put on the roads). Those taxes are then passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

Another issue with McDonnell's plan is that interstate drivers who drive through VA (and gas up in VA) but don't live in VA (so don't buy much else in VA) will get to use Virginia's roads for free.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

Remember this is a guy who decided it was better off to sell of the state ABC stores (w/o a provision that would actually just legalize liqour stores) than actually do anything meaningful. Va. Republicans would also rather sell ad space on school buses that actually raise a tax.

But this is great. A tax hike that actually raises less money.

Taxes are a tool to raise money, if they can't do it efficiently then what's the point. This sales tax thing is as if the taxes are the end rather than the means.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

You didn't even mention that for some reason, his plan includes an additional $100 a year fee for alternative fuel vehicles. I don't understand what the thinking could be there.

Then again, there's not a reasonable rationale for much of anything in this proposal.

I should point out, though, that this is often taken as a given:

If Virginia goes for McDonnell's idea, the gap between Virginia gas prices and DC and Maryland gas prices would widen.
It's not entirely clear that removing the gas tax will actually reduce gas prices by much. My understanding of studies of this relationship is that some, but by no means all, of the gas tax is reflected in prices at the pump. So we should not take it as given that even removing all gas taxes would result in a large decrease in prices.

It's similar to what you see at duty-free shops at the border. At those shops, taxes that make up a huge percentage of the retail price of goods like wine and liquor are removed--and yet the prices are not that much lower than at non-duty-free shops. Why? Because retailers aren't setting prices based on how much goods+taxes cost them, but on what the market will bear. In the case of duty-free shops, demand is pretty elastic but there's only a finite number of firms in the marketplace. These firms just need to set prices a bit lower than non-duty-free shops, and they are able to attract plenty of customers.

In the case of gas, there still may be a limited number of firms selling it in an area, but more importantly, demand is quite inelastic. So it's possible, perhaps even likely, that prices will not have a particularly strong relationship with the level of taxes.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

Fun world where small gov fiscal conservatism means reducing user fees & increasing taxes on the general population.

by Bossi on Jan 9, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

AWITC: I was wondering if the sales tax would apply to gasoline too, but then I found this article clarifying that it would not. I've added a direct quote to make it clear.

Gray's the Fields: I've added that in - I was racing to get done and realized I left some stuff out.

by David Alpert on Jan 9, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

I agree, this is insane.

Two other problems I see:

1) Right now, the gas tax collects a lot of revenue from out-of-state drivers traveling through VA who only stop off to get gas on I-95 or I-81. Those people will now not pay a single cent to maintain our roads, except for maybe a minute additional sales tax if they buy coffee or fast food while they are gassing up. In the meantime, as you pointed out, the sales tax increase will hit in-state residents who don't even drive at all!

2) Won't this hurt shops and restaurants near state borders? I think, though I'm not sure, that VA is a little bit lower than most of its neighboring states and therefore gets a little bit of cross-border business. This removes that incentive.

3) This removes an important incentive for someone to buy a fuel-efficient sedan instead of an SUV, and also incentives to bike or take transit instead of walking.

4) Truck drivers in particular will love this ... but I don't think that's fair to the rest of us. Trucks cause at least double the damage to roads and bridges that cars do, but under this scheme truck drivers and car drivers contribute equally towards transportation. Under our current scheme truckers pay more because their vehicles use so much more gas ... in other words, gas consumption more or less rises proportionally with vehicle weight.

5) This is doubly regressive on low-income people who live in our cities. These people mostly walk or use transit, so now they are paying more money on groceries to support roads they don't even really use.

by Marc on Jan 9, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

@Marc: The Post article says that the gas tax on diesel would remain:
McDonnell’s plan, based largely on a bill proposed by Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), would maintain the 17.5-cent gas tax on diesel fuel; motorists would still have to pay the federal 18.4-cent-per-gallon levy on gas.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

Actually, I don't think this is insane at all.

Broaden the tax base, lower the rate.

But aren't the news bonds tied directly to the gas tax - or is that on the federal side?

Taxing vehicle regiration more is also a good idea, and you could easily phase as in europe with different engine sizes being taxed at different bands. Of course, we basically had that in Virginia.

I'm glad to see McDonnell throwing a bomb around.

by charlie on Jan 9, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

Maybe if they were going to start instituting tolls on all of VA's interstates?

This is just astoundingly stupid. Yes, Virginia would love to provide free roads to all out-of-staters passing through! Its citizens will be just delighted to pay extra sales tax for the benefit of gas guzzlers. Oh, except for its "alternative fuel vehicle" owners, they better kick in extra since they are degenerates who don't pay the gas tax. Hey, wait...

by CapHill on Jan 9, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

@CapHill: I still really don't understand the $100 alternative fuel surcharge here. Is there any possible justification for that other than spite?

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

@Charlie

Yes... political terrorism really is great isnt it?

This plan is idiotic and specifically harms NOVA more and provides corporate relief to gas companies and rural relief to regions which already use NOVAs money to build projects worth billions. All the while we beg for 150 million for what is nearly unanimously a wanted project in this area.

The Governor is a socialist, and not even a good one. He is like a Soviet Chairman appeasing the party with more and more damage done to those who oppose him.

by Tysons Engineer on Jan 9, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

@Gray

Well if the fuel tax was to remain it might make some sense, since they still cause some maintenance on roads... but now that he is proposing to remove the fuel tax then no it is literally a big middle finger to those damn hippy socialists in NOVA who drive their prius' and use metro.

"Suck it NOVA" - Governor Ultrasound Bobby

by Tysons Engineer on Jan 9, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

I must admit, this is pretty radical, and I love radical ideas, because they test assumptions.

Politically I cannot imagine that this will ever pass. So that makes me wonder, why try? Is this a fig leaf to cover inaction on this crucial issue, to gain the "never increase taxes" votes in the election coming up this year?

OTOH, I do agree that something must be done to break the logjam that has gone on for 10+ years on this issue. Maybe this is the bomb to do it.

by goldfish on Jan 9, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

Actually, I don't think this is insane at all.

Broaden the tax base, lower the rate.

He's increasing one rate (sales) while decreasing another rate (gas). Overall, he's not lowering the rate of taxes. In fact, overall it's a huge tax increase.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

Two examples of the absurdness of this "plan"

Example A: To drive from DC to New York costs ~$40 in tolls, and ~$4 in gas tax. Currently, people who live north of Virginia, and turn 95 into a parking lot every Friday when the temperature is 65*+, pay about ~$2 in gas tax to VA (200 miles on 95/64, 10 gallons of gas, 17.5c) Under this plan, those people would now be paying $0. States north of Virginia get $40 when VA drivers go north, and VA gets $0 when those drivers come south.

Example B: The minimum wage bus-riding wal-mart employee, who makes $15,000 a year, would now be contributing more in direct funds to the transportation fund (her bus fare covers some portion of the diesel that the bus uses) whereas the commuter driving their H2 from Manassas to Tysons would be paying $0.

This is roundly one of the worst ideas I have ever heard. You know it is bad when conservatives and liberals alike think it is terrible. This is what you get when you are puppets to Grover Norquist. Crackpot ideas like this, and no political will to do what is necessary, and simply double the gas tax, and index it to inflation.

by Kyle-w on Jan 9, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

"Politically I cannot imagine that this will ever pass. So that makes me wonder, why try?"

2016

This will look very good to GOP primary voters in New Hampshire.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Another element is to charge alternative fuel vehicles $100 per year. McDonnell's argument is that since these use less gas, they should contribute to the costs of road maintenance. But it's particularly ironic that he's looking to have these vehicles pay for road maintenance while exempting regular gas-guzzlers.

Wait . . . what? AFVs use less gas, so they have to pay a $100 fee for road maintenance, presumably to make up the difference for the gas taxes the state is not collecting.

But the gas tax is eliminated.

So in addition to paying the same higher sales taxes as everyone else, AFV owners must pay $100 per year for road maintenance, while all others need pay nothing extra towards road maintenance. Hybrid/electric car owners are penalized with an extra fee for making an environmentally responsible choice.

This isn't ironic, it's Alice through the looking glass insanity.

by dcd on Jan 9, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

@AwalkerinTheCity. McDonnell is proposing to raise the state sales tax. That will get him few points with the anti-tax above all else voters in Iowa or NH. McDonnell has zero chance at getting the 2016 Republican nomination anyway. If he runs, it would really be for consideration to be picked for the VP slot.

What I don't understand about 5his plan is to keep gas exempt from the proposed %5.8 sales tax. If the retail price of gas minus the current VA and federal excise taxes was subject to a %5.8 sales tax, it should bring in revenue roughly equivalent to the current state 17.5 cent gas tax. If gas goes to $4 or $5 a gallon, the sales tax would bring in more revenue. Yes, this plan is mostly crazy.

My guess is that McDonnell is proposing this to throw a wrench into the legislative process, so there will be no increase in the gas tax or other significant revenue increases this year and he can depart as Governor with no (real) tax increases on his watch. Proposals get forgotten, only what makes it into law matters for future consideration as VP or a cabinet post.

by AlanF on Jan 9, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

Wow this is nutty. What are these guys smoking?

Meanwhile, at VDOT:
http://goo.gl/y7Z7Z

by MLD on Jan 9, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

@ Marc:Trucks cause at least double the damage to roads and bridges that cars do

Correct, but it's much, much more. Road damage goes by the fourth power. That means that for a twice as heavy car, you do 2^4=16 times as much damage. Trucks way tens of times more than cars.

by Jasper on Jan 9, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

It's a shame that this idiot was elected governor of the fine state of Virginia. I miss Tim Kaine.

by m2fc on Jan 9, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

"AwalkerinTheCity. McDonnell is proposing to raise the state sales tax. That will get him few points with the anti-tax above all else voters in Iowa or NH."

To which he can respond that Va still has a low sales tax compared to nearby jurisdictions, plus NO gas tax. Are the NH GOP voters really gonna care about the difference between Va having a 5% sales tax and a 5.8% sales tax?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

McDonnell justifies the $100 annual tax on alternative fuel vehicles in spite of the elimination of the state gas tax because "the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents will remain and with more alternative fuel vehicles on the road, the less of a share Virginia will get of those federal gas tax revenues." So the tax can be seen as an attempt to have those drivers pay approximately as much as drivers of gas-powered vehicles pay in federal gas tax ($100 = tax paid in a year if filling up a normal-sized tank about once every week and a half).

The problem is that it assumes that these drivers are paying for roads "which they use every day" (language from Gov's website). If you do not drive your car every day, the tax is a disincentive to buying an alternative fuel vehicle since you'll be paying far more than other drivers relative to your road usage.

by RTA on Jan 9, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

I have to say that I agree with AlanF. McDonnell ran on solving this problem but know there is no way at all to solve it without raising revenue and taxes, thus killing his future political career. So he proposes something that will never happen, but if it did, would further burden the carless poor and stick it to public transportation- and AFV owners, too. While it is good to point out the policy absurdity, really this is just an attempt to say he did something. It won't go anywhere, and he'll be just fine with that.

by Dan on Jan 9, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

I'm really surprised at the Washington Post editorial that praises McDonnell for doing something, even though it has so many obvious pitfalls. Their harshest criticism is that it does too little to meet current problems, which is not even the first problem with this ridiculous plan.

by Adam L on Jan 9, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

The minimum wage bus-riding wal-mart employee, who makes $15,000 a year, would now be contributing more in direct funds to the transportation fund (her bus fare covers some portion of the diesel that the bus uses) whereas the commuter driving their H2 from Manassas to Tysons would be paying $0.

Don't transit operators get a refund for the gas taxes that they pay, or am I misremembering that?

by andrew on Jan 9, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

Transit operators usually do not pay gas taxes.

by MLD on Jan 9, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

Thanks to the people who corrected me by pointing out that the tax on diesel will remain as is.

But won't that disproportionately punish the minority of drivers who drive diesel sedans? We want to be encouraging, not discouraging, diesel vehicles - they get a little bit better mileage, and more importantly their engines are more durable. Besides being a good thing for your wallet it's also environmentally friendly - less energy wasted manufacturing gas engines that fail quicker.

by Marc on Jan 9, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

I disagree with his plan, but I also disagree with some of the assertions here.

If the issue is revenue (and I realize you're making an environmental point), then what on earth are you babbling about for the $100 hybrid surcharge? Clearly a gas guzzling suv will need more gas to go less distance resulting in more tax revenue while a fuel efficient hybrid will require less gas to go further distances resulting in more revenue. Your argument here should have been that it's contradictory toward his action of permitting free use of ETLs by HOV users because then you have less gas consumed and no toll paid (losing out triply+ on tolls and at least doubly on gas tax).

Second, I disagree that not everyone uses the roads. It's a faulty logic. I say this as a cyclist and infrequent mass transit user. Even I rode entirely on paths and by Metro rail, the goods and services I buy rely upon the infrastructure. They don't airdrop my mail or my groceries, so even if I found a way to never touch a road, I still benefit by it.

And I don't think this will impact more people driving because more driving will mean more congestion. I think, at least in Northern Virginia, we're past that point. If that had been the case, regional use would have significantly declined following 08 gas spikes; it didn't.

The only real workable solutions are a per mile tax on vehicular traffic coupled with more equitable farebox recovery OR delegating some taxing authority to regional bodies to fund regional priorities. I think the latter option is more appealing and they could always tie a sunset to it so that folks wouldn't be permanently paying more (just upkeep). However, the VA Supreme Court stuck that option down.

So, McDonnell's idea, while fraught with issues, at least opens the door on an important issue.

by T1 on Jan 9, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

*err less revenue for hybrid, what happens when I type trans policy too quick

by T1 on Jan 9, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

"Clearly a gas guzzling suv will need more gas to go less distance resulting in more tax revenue while a fuel efficient hybrid will require less gas to go further distances resulting in more revenue."

not more revenue in Va, if there is no more gas tax. More revenue to the feds maybe, but why is the equity of federal taxatation a concern of the commonwealth?

"Even I rode entirely on paths and by Metro rail, the goods and services I buy rely upon the infrastructure. They don't airdrop my mail or my groceries, so even if I found a way to never touch a road, I still benefit by it."

but diesel fuel, the principle fuel for trucks, will still be taxed. So you ARE paying for the roads the freight you rely on uses.

"And I don't think this will impact more people driving because more driving will mean more congestion. I think, at least in Northern Virginia, we're past that point."

There are loads of people with an option who drive. Depending on where you are coming from in NoVa, and where you are going in DC, it can be somewhat faster to drive to DC, even at rush hour. People tend not to because its CHEAPER to use metro (including the cost of parking, etc) Changing the relative costs will certainly have an impact at the margin - it will also impact the degree to which people carpool, and the pleasure trips on weekends, the choice of going farther or closer to shop, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

Can we do a recall? He is clearly certifiable at this point.

by NikolasM on Jan 9, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

Second, I disagree that not everyone uses the roads. It's a faulty logic. I say this as a cyclist and infrequent mass transit user. Even I rode entirely on paths and by Metro rail, the goods and services I buy rely upon the infrastructure. They don't airdrop my mail or my groceries, so even if I found a way to never touch a road, I still benefit by it.

Yes, even if you never touch a road you still benefit from them...and still pay for them. Part of the cost of the goods and services you purchase reflect the cost of gas. That's why when the cost of gas rises, it affects the cost of most other things. For example, the post office explicitly cited the rising price of gas as a driver of the last few postage rate increases.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

It more significantly shifts the burden of paying for transportation away from people using transportation and onto everyone. Don't have a car? Except for the car tax, you will still pay for Virginia roads as much as everyone else.

Well, the same could be said for transit -- under the new tax proposal, if you don't ride the Metro, you will still pay for transit projects like the Silver line as much as everyone else.

Even under the current tax paradigm, most of the burden of paying for transit is shifted away from people who actually use it. Only around $800 million of WMATA's $2.6 billion budget is funded with passenger fares or parking fees. About $1.5 billion comes from federal, state and local jurisdictions.

While the sales tax proposal is not perfect, it is politically smart. History shows that people are more likely to support a sales tax increase than a gas tax increase.

by Scoot on Jan 9, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

Also, the $100 fee for alternative fuel vehicles does not really discourage the use of fuel efficient vehicles, as most fuel efficient vehicles are not alternative fuel vehicles. Proponents of alternative fuel vehicles would be more likely discouraged by the small number of alternative fuel filling stations (mostly electric power) relative to the number of traditional gas filling stations. The alternative fuel fee does not really send a great message about the state's environmental priorities, but practically speaking, would probably not discourage anyone from actually owning an alternative fuel vehicle.

Even so, there are many other incentives to owning a fuel efficient vehicle (as well as an alternative fuel vehicle), namely, that they cost much less to operate. There are also a number of tax credits associated with them.

by Scoot on Jan 9, 2013 2:28 pm • linkreport

"Well, the same could be said for transit -- under the new tax proposal, if you don't ride the Metro, you will still pay for transit projects like the Silver line as much as everyone else."

except one more transit passenger (especially other than for rail at peak) generally means more service, and is desirable. One more more vehicle means more congestion. The responses to scale are different.

Aside from which the issue of paying for transit from sources other than the farebox has been a source of endless complaint for years.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

"Proponents of alternative fuel vehicles would be more likely discouraged by the small number of alternative fuel filling stations "

But why add another disincentive?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

" History shows that people are more likely to support a sales tax increase than a gas tax increase"

If he had proposed a sales tax increase, and keeping the gas tax the same that would have been one thing. This is far beyond that - its abolishing the current gas tax, which means a much larger sales tax increase is required than would have been the case had he only kept the gas tax the same.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

You'd also see trucks in VA moving to less-efficient gas engines, if they can save 17.5c/mile by doing so. I do think those who suggest he has no intention of seeing this pass are right on the money.

by Mike on Jan 9, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

The gas tax doesn't cover all of the state's road maintenance either. So then its not inconsistent to expect transit riders to continue be subsidized at their current level (or more) while supporting a raise of the gas tax or some other kind of user fee (like tolls).

Moreover, every transit rider means one less car than before so a good way to keep drivers happy is by making sure transit is moving a lot of people.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Add: so in this case the governor is explicitly arguing to subsidize drivers even more by removing the gas tax.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

Interestingly, diesel fuel will still get taxed, meaning goods in stores will still be just as expensive.

by Richard on Jan 9, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

except one more transit passenger (especially other than for rail at peak) generally means more service, and is desirable. One more more vehicle means more congestion. The responses to scale are different.

That's simply your perspective. A lot of people perceive that one more vehicle means one more opportunity to travel.

The point is that the author of the post apparently think it's unfair that everyone has to pay for roads (despite the myriad benefits that roads confer), but does not seem to have a problem with everyone having to pay for transit.

But why add another disincentive?

In my opinion (which I already stated), it would probably not be a disincentive because it would be unlikely to actually alter people's behavior and keep them from buying alternative fuel cars.

a much larger sales tax increase is required than would have been the case had he only kept the gas tax the same.

I'm not sure of that. The current fuel tax raises about $875 million/year in revenue. The new tax policy would raise $3.1 billion over 5 years plus another $1 billion in projected revenue from sales tax on products sold over the Internet. That's $4.1 billion over 5 years compared with the existing fuel tax paradigm which over 5 years would raise a little under $4.4 billion.

Now, of course, this isn't even enough to keep up with Virginia's appetite for spending, so something will need to change. But it is not quite the apocalyptic dive in revenue that this post implies.

by Scoot on Jan 9, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

Scoot,

but everyone is paying for roads already. This proposal means that actually increases.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

Prediction: 2020 Virginia faces epidemic gridlock as everyone drives more and roads wear down after maintenance is shelved due to lack of funding.

Ok that's probably not going to happen, but isn't gas tax just about the most logical tax as it is directly related to use. At least as directly related as it can be unless we start tolling everything and charging based on weight etc.

by Alan B. on Jan 9, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

"A lot of people perceive that one more vehicle means one more opportunity to travel."

Huh? My vehicle is an opportunity for ME to travel. Some other guys vehicle is something getting in my way. Are there really drivers who prefer congested roads? Are there really drivers who are not happy when a transit line takes cars off the roads they travel (they complain about the cost but thats something else)

The point is a new transit line HELPS drivers (by making the roads less congested) A new (or widened) road seldom has the same benefit for transit riders. Indeed a widened road often makes it harder for walkers and cyclists.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

"In my opinion (which I already stated), it would probably not be a disincentive because it would be unlikely to actually alter people's behavior and keep them from buying alternative fuel cars."

that a disincentive is small, does not mean its not a disincentive. There is always SOMEONE at the margin.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

The point is that the author of the post apparently think it's unfair that everyone has to pay for roads (despite the myriad benefits that roads confer), but does not seem to have a problem with everyone having to pay for transit.

If one goes from being a road user to a transit user, it benefits other road users (reducing congestion, speeding trips) and helps transit (by lowering its average cost per trip). If one goes from being a transit user to a road user, it harms roads (increases congestion) and harms transit (by increasing average cost per trip).

As such, it makes sense to use some of the gas tax to subsidize transit while it doesn't make sense to use some of the transit farebox to subsidize roads. In fact, to some extent, spending a modest amount of gas tax money on transit actually speeds road users trips more than spending it on more roads. That's because congestion is driven by bottlenecks and its often cheaper to use transit to relieve a bottleneck than to build a bigger road. This is particularly true when land (right-of-way) costs are high.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

"Changing the relative costs will certainly have an impact at the margin"

Not really. Did congestion decrease following record high gas prices?

As for increased mass transit, that costs the system more than drivers. In this area, mass transit is often double subsidized. Aside from farebox recovery, the government and many employers also subsidize the use. (The government even provides a tax incentive to encourage private employers to have their employees use the roads).

Diesel is actually going to the wayside for natural gas, but that's another discussion all together. The point remains, even though I infrequently use the roads, it's not that I don't benefit from their use.

by T1 on Jan 9, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

'"Changing the relative costs will certainly have an impact at the margin"
Not really. Did congestion decrease following record high gas prices?'

nationally VMT declined, yes.

In this region growth offset any such decline. To say something is a disincentive does not mean its the only factor involved.

If the govt increases income tax rates, does that mean there will be fewer hours worked - or fewer workers - or less investment - arguments about incentives are always ceteris paribas - all other things being equal. All other things being equal, taxing a given thing means less of it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

"In this area"

In this area, ceasing to subsidize metro rail would lead to gridlock. There isnt room to build the roads you would need to handle the traffic.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

In this area, mass transit is often double subsidized. Aside from farebox recovery, the government and many employers also subsidize the use.

Drivers receive the exact same "double subsidy" as transit users. Virtually any employer that provides a transit subsidy also provides a parking subsidy. Until recently, the max parking subsidy was $240 while the transit max was only $125.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

Huh? My vehicle is an opportunity for ME to travel. Some other guys vehicle is something getting in my way. Are there really drivers who prefer congested roads?

Drivers, for the most part, are desensitized to congestion. They consider it a necessary evil of commuting. When they see a new road project breaking ground, they perceive an opportunity for easier, faster or more convenient travel, even if it may not be in the long term (although, it very well may be depending on the project). What people perceive can often be as important as what actually happens.

Now as a transit rider, what is the benefit to ME of more people using transit? If I'm very lucky, the system may expand or reduce headways. But it usually means more crowded platforms, fewer empty seats, more delays -- and if the system is expanding to handle new capacity then it's probably not going to lower my fare any time soon. If history is any indication then my fares will keep going up regardless of what happens.

by Scoot on Jan 9, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

"Drivers, for the most part, are desensitized to congestion. They consider it a necessary evil of commuting. "

that is not at all my impression.

"Now as a transit rider, what is the benefit to ME of more people using transit?"

have you ever used a bus line where service is cut or eliminated becaused of inadequate ridership? or rail line where safety has become a concern because of too few people on the trains, or at stations? A rail line that has earlier closing hours because of limited ridership? Or been frustrate because you cannot get A from to B expeditiously, because there is no rail line, and too little bus service, because of lack of riders?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

@Scoot and @AWalkerInTheCity:
"Drivers, for the most part, are desensitized to congestion. They consider it a necessary evil of commuting. "

that is not at all my impression.

I actually think the statement likely holds. Most of my coworkers are completely accustomed to the incredible congestion they encounter, and slight differences are unlikely to affect them.

But this misses the most useful point that economics can give us here (which has been mentioned above): what matters is the marginal person. Even if the drivers aren't perceiving well, and even if they aren't acting particularly rationally, adding a bit more congestion is likely to affect someone's decision. Not the decisions of the vast majority of drivers who have no intention of changing their behavior, but the decision of the driver who was already pretty indifferent to driving vs. something else.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

I'd like to again make the point that by decoupling road maintenance funding from taxing road users, VA is making using its roads essentially free to the thousands and thousands of people driving through the state but not buying goods (besides gasoline) while in it. The burden of maintenance falls instead upon those paying sales taxes, which I would guess are almost exclusively VA residents (including many who do not own cars). Or, put another way: VA residents won't be the only people using VA roads, but they will be almost entirely responsible for funding those roads' upkeep.

If I drive from DC to North Carolina and stop to fill up at my usual station outside Petersburg, then Virginia is getting $0.00 of my money without a gas tax, even though I am using their roads for 200 miles. It's a great deal for me and the thousands of others passing through every day! Hope the VA residents don't mind subsidizing us.

by CapHill on Jan 9, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

"Drivers, for the most part, are desensitized to congestion. They consider it a necessary evil of commuting. "

Which would imply that we don't need any more roads to ease congestion. By contrast, transit riders are not desensitized to congestion in transit or the lack of transit service, which argues for more transit.

Now as a transit rider, what is the benefit to ME of more people using transit?

The benefit to you the transit rider is that each extra passenger means more money for transit which is spent on either more service or slower increases in fares (the money has to go somewhere, right?). However, you could also point out that more drivers means more gas tax revenue which means more roads for drivers...but, oh wait, McDonnell is getting rid of the gas tax.

by Falls Church on Jan 9, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

I just think some are upset that if the gas tax disappears, then the 18% they were skimming off the top for non road related things like their favorite transit money pit, will also disappear.

In the end, it is pretty clear that with the massive increases in fuel efficiency, the gas tax is forever going to see diminishing collections, unless you want to make it some ridiculous amount, to inflate at twice inflation every year, which obviously won't happen.

More money will be collected for road infrasturcure in VA via a general sales tax on everyone, rather than the current system.

Folks who have just gotten use to the people buying gas funding their pretty train projects will have to find another source of revenue to leach from.

by Gas Tax on Jan 9, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

As such, it makes sense to use some of the gas tax to subsidize transit while it doesn't make sense to use some of the transit farebox to subsidize roads.

I think you're skirting around the issue of what's fair in order to address what makes sense. I'm totally in favor of using fuel taxes to pay for transit. But if you consider the fuel tax to be a usage tax, then no, it's not really fair to divert a portion of it to pay for transit. It makes sense, and it should continue, but then maybe it should be called something other than a usage tax. Maybe a "congestion tax" is better?

There is the prospect of a "free rider" problem if the gas tax is repealed (because now everyone has to pay more for roads and the people who use them pay marginally less), but if people want to attack the "free rider" problem in roads then they should be prepared to accept that there is already a "free rider" problem in transit -- as most of the funding comes from non-users.

We transit users simply take our "free riding" for granted and assume that it benefits everyone - and that everyone would agree with us if they just saw it our way.

But a lot of drivers take issue with our "free riding". They perceive that we are getting something for nothing and they are, for the most part, correct.

by Scoot on Jan 9, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

@Gas Tax:
I just think some are upset that if the gas tax disappears, then the 18% they were skimming off the top for non road related things like their favorite transit money pit, will also disappear.
Yes, this is the only reasonable reading of all of the arguments made in the above comments. I'm glad someone finally crystallized this painfully obvious truth for us all.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

gray

its true that people dont come to work complaining about congestion every day. but people definitely complain if its worse than usual, and are happy when its better than usual. I think that to the extent they are aware of transit, they generally are glad that the transit riders are not on the roads making things worse. Ergo, they DO benefit from transit's existence, and usually they are aware of it.

The notion that the subsidy to transit is not only good policy, but is equitable, in thats its a benefit to many drivers, seems to me to be silly. There are drivers to whom its not a benefit - those whose routes are not parallel to major transit routes for example. But those who do commute along the radials into DC, I think not only benefit, but are at least somewhat aware that they do.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

Scoot

If someone could give me a good policy based reason to lower the gas tax, I would not object on equity grounds. Indeed, if I could rebate the tax to those who commute off hours I would. I support paying for added lanes with tolls, which lessens the amount that must come from the gas tax - and tolls that vary by time of day can give a free ride to some motorists.

I do not think the point of a user fee is equity - I personally am more of a radical than most about the ideal distribution of well being - I would prefer it to be equal. All inequality is a concession from equity to efficiency. The reason for a user fee, by any name, is efficiency.

And I do believe that price effects behavior, and that this approach is inefficient.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 9, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

"Now as a transit rider, what is the benefit to ME of more people using transit?"

It means I'm more likely to run into a friend on transit and have a nice conversation. Happens all the time. It's nice

by Jonathan Krall on Jan 9, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

I just think some are upset that if the gas tax disappears, then the 18% they were skimming off the top for non road related things like their favorite transit money pit, will also disappear.

Yes, the issue at hand is that we spend too much on transportation.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 5:31 pm • linkreport

This is yet another way to siphon off funds from urban areas in Virginia to rural ones. Any increase in the subsidy to drivers benefits those who drive more on average, and that's the outer exurbs and rural areas.

by Crickey7 on Jan 9, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

I think its a great idea. MD is planning on adding a 6% sales tax on top of the 23 cent gas tax. Anybody passing through VA or lives in MD or DC but along the border with VA will buy their gas in VA. So VA gets higher income, more jobs at gas stations, people will run their errands in VA when buying gas. VA wins, MD and DC loses.

by Rich on Jan 9, 2013 6:55 pm • linkreport

Virginia is making it increasingly attractive to work in VA and live in MD. The Wilson Bridge and I-495 HOT lanes reinforce this. Cheap gas and jobs in Virginia. Good schools and quality of life in MD. I think this plan brings some cohesion to our region. It also brings up what most Virginian's ignore. That while Maryland and DC have higher income and sales taxes, Virginia has a lot of other crazy taxes (i.e. car, food) to make up the difference. I think I'll stay on this side of the Potomac for now.

by Cyrus on Jan 9, 2013 7:27 pm • linkreport

@Rich

Interesting way of thinking about it I suppose. I live in DC, and will certainly now do ALL of my shopping in DC, as the sales taxes are the same, yet DC doesn't charge food sales tax.

Then, when I go visit my parents in Tappahannock, I will fill up in Fredericksburg, like I normally do, and will fill up on the way home in Fredericksburg again. In addition, I will fill up a couple of 5-gallon gas tanks to take back to DC with me. So yes, DC does lose a bit more gas money. However, Virginia loses all my gas money.

I suppose VA may gain a few gas station jobs! Great success!!!

by Kyle-w on Jan 9, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

@Kyle-w: Be sure to do some grocery shopping for your parents before you leave.

by JimT on Jan 9, 2013 10:21 pm • linkreport

Let's be absolutely clear: drivers already do not pay their fair share of road upkeep. Per the Virginia DPB: "Money in this fund is used to support highway construction and maintenance and operating costs. Federal, local, and toll revenues are also used to finance transportation programs." 21% of the Commonwealth's direct transportation spending is already NOT paid for by road user fees, and 100% of indirect spending -- on everything from policing roads to managing VDOT to the myriad external costs like pollution and road deaths.

Ironically, the entire "gas tax = user fee = we own the roads" principle was a 1930s invention by the auto lobby. As documented in UVa (!) professor Peter Norton's book "Fighting Traffic," "Gasoline taxes advanced a new understanding of roads... Because they paid for the roads, they could reasonably claim some rights of ownership in them. Roads were no longer simply public property to be regulated in the interest of the general public." If auto owners are no longer going to pay for the roads, then they should no longer be regulated in their specific interests, either.

by Payton on Jan 10, 2013 12:44 am • linkreport

Gasoline in Northern Virginia is subjected to a 2.1% sales tax, which makes the total gas tax in Northern Virginia a tad higher than in DC or Maryland. So the barrier against subjecting gasoline to a sales tax has been slightly broken already in Virginia. It ought not be that big of a deal to (for example) add an additional 1% sales tax to gasoline. Perhaps Governor O'Malley overreached by seeking to entirely remove the exemption last year, and should just push for separate 2.3% gas taxes for PG/Moco and Baltimore areas.

We can be sure of one thing: McDonnell's proposal was not calculated to help secure a Republican presidential nomination. New Hampshire has no sales tax--but it has a gasoline user fee--so raising the sales tax will not help with those voters. And Iowa wants people to buy ethanol, so an indirect $100/year tax on ethanol will not help.

The proposal might help if McDonnel would like to run for Governor of New Jersey, however. The Garden state is known for low gas taxes and lots of tolls, and Virginia seems to be heading in that direction.

by JimT on Jan 10, 2013 8:28 am • linkreport

I'd be ok with low gas taxes and lots of tolls.

by Crickey7 on Jan 10, 2013 9:41 am • linkreport

McDo's proposal is somewhat flawed, sure, but how is it insane? Revenues aren't indexed to inflation, and vehicles are only becoming more efficient, using increasingly less gasoline if they even use gasoline at all. This appears to be an (admittedly feeble) attempt to capture revenue from those drivers over time.

McDo and Cuccinelli have both done any number of insane things - the mandatory ultrasound, for example. But this revenue proposal isn't insane, it's merely insufficient.

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 10, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

This appears to be an (admittedly feeble) attempt to capture revenue from those drivers over time.

That explains a sales tax increase. Increasing sales taxes to fund transportation is a common tool.

It does not explain eliminating the gas tax, however. Nor does it explain exempting gasoline from sales taxes.

It is both insufficient and 'insane,' because the proposal and its mechanisms do not address any of the problems you lay out.

by Alex B. on Jan 10, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

This appears to be an (admittedly feeble) attempt to capture revenue from those drivers over time.

Not really, since the plan is to completely separate spending on roads/transportation from a revenue source connected to how much people use those roads.

You're right that revenues are currently not indexed to inflation and that vehicles are becoming more efficient. The solution to those potential revenue decreases is to index the gas tax to inflation and bump up the gas tax according to efficiency gains, not get rid of the gas tax.

Vehicles that run on something other than diesel/gas are so rare currently that there is only a need to start pilot programs for new revenue sources, not a need to completely ditch the gas tax and go to something else.

Unfortunately there seem to be some "very serious transportation experts" out there who are super gung-ho about electric cars, driverless whatever and are pushing a "we need to move on from the gas tax" mentality. And this is the result of twisting that mentality around.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

@JD Hammond

See above. It is insane because it removes any sort of link between user pays. If you want it to be correct, figure out the spending needs today, raise gas tax to that amount. Say it is .35c. From there, raise it by inflation (to keep funding steady) + 3% a year (to take into account continued increases in fuel efficiency)

Boom. There you go. Gas tax pays for roads, and the road funding issue is done for at least 15 years. Increase in gas tax is .175c, and the yearly increase is around .015c.

by Kyle-W on Jan 10, 2013 10:12 am • linkreport

I think it's fairly clear that raising the gas tax in any amount, however necessary it might be, is politically infeasible. It was incredibly difficult to raise any kind of revenue for infrastructure improvements in northern and southeastern Virginia. I don't trust McDo, either, but I think this is an obvious bind.

I'm not sure what the point of the "electric cars, driverless whatever" comment is, though. There's a lot of money being put into improving electric vehicles, so it follows people would want to pursue that revenue. And, well, what *about* driverless "whatever"? Do you trust pilots to fly by wire? Do you trust drivers on the road right now?

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 10, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

All this chit chat does not change one basic fact: If you're dumb enough to live in Northern Virginia you deserve every last thing you get. I'm not a huge fan of big box stores, but now with Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the rest coming into DC, I'm thrilled I'll never have to set foot in your godforsaken, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything state again.

by mikedc on Jan 10, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

Mike, I'm gay and I live in Virginia.

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 10, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

I'm thrilled I'll never have to set foot in your godforsaken, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything state again.

Geesh! Can we adjust the calibrator on hyperbolometer here???

VA is the same state that has TWICE voted for Obama...the "gay" president and elected two democrat senators.

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 10:28 am • linkreport

If you're dumb enough to live in Northern Virginia you deserve every last thing you get.

Right. And if you live in DC and are murdered, you clearly deserved it.

I'm thrilled I'll never have to set foot in your godforsaken, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything state again.

Considering that VA is more liberal than the average state in America, sounds like you're writing off over half the country. If you hate America that much, why not move?

by Falls Church on Jan 10, 2013 10:31 am • linkreport

I just think some are upset that if the gas tax disappears, then the 18% they were skimming off the top for non road related things like their favorite transit money pit, will also disappear.

So, if the sales tax will pay for all roads, then why shouldn't it pay for all transit, eliminating the need for fares?

by Falls Church on Jan 10, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

So, if the sales tax will pay for all roads, then why shouldn't it pay for all transit, eliminating the need for fares?

This I'm in total agreement with. It's also fair and equitable to do this, rather than expecting drivers to pay for everything out of the box while riders are subsidized, which I guess is kind of equitable in a way, but at the same time also, well, not at all equitable.

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 10, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

"So, if the sales tax will pay for all roads, then why shouldn't it pay for all transit, eliminating the need for fares?"

lets start thinking about that seriously. Lets assume we decide the above is legitimate in principle (based both on efficiency and the new McDO approach to equity). But has to be limited in its initial application - to test the impacts, to conserve $$, but mostly to avoid surges of ridership on lines with capacity issues.

Where would be reduce or eliminate fares first? Where last? For last, I would suggest on the most congested metrorail lines - Orange and Blue lines in particular. First - bus lines, which in NoVa, typically run (Col Pike excepted?) with empty seats. Express buses particularly do, but class/race equity concerns may militate in favor of beginning with local buses. Given the policy priority of reducing SOV use into Tysons, I think the first cuts should be to buses running to Tysons - both existing express buses from PWC, the new services FFX county is starting, and on local buses into Tysons.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

If no one is going to report Mike's language, then I'm also going to add that DC is becoming notoriously transphobic. Close friends of mine have been bashed over the last two years, even.

I mean, as long as we're positing deeply cruel, irrelevant and absurd notions about "deserving" what one "gets".

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 10, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

"Considering that VA is more liberal than the average state in America, sounds like you're writing off over half the country. "

Va is more liberal in even year elections, than in odd year elections, by far. That may be one reason we can vote for BHO and (quite moderate) Dem Senators, while producing a legislature that is hardly more liberal than average. And of course some not particularly liberal referendum results. On gay marriage we dont just ban it - our constitution as amended does not allow the passage of any kind of civil union, even banning the extension of marriage type rights on a limited basis. Its really rather nasty.

And of course on biking, we are one of a handful (I believe I saw somewhere the only one?) of states that exclude bikes from protection against tailgating.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

My initial reaction was to oppose the suggestion of elimination of the gas tax and its replacement with a sales tax. I really feel that sales taxes are regressive and should be avoided. However, on further reflection there are some portions of the idea that should be considered.

If the sales tax is applied to gasoline sales at the increased rate the revenue generated by the tax on gasoline sales would be about the same as that generated by the gasoline tax – assuming its applied to the full price including the federal taxes – and it would still be paid by out of state drivers. The revenue would increase as the price of gas goes up.. Perhaps of greater interest is that replacing the gasoline tax with a sales tax would remove once and for all the canard that roads pay for themselves though the gas tax while transit requires a subsidy from other public sources. While there would still be regular fights about the allocations to the various modes, all would have to agree that both transit and roadways require public subsidy.

by Frank Spielberg on Jan 10, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

I mean, as long as we're positing deeply cruel, irrelevant and absurd notions about "deserving" what one "gets".

Ok, let's stop this nonsense. Sure, what Mike said was ugly. But no uglier than the many posts here often touting what "DC" or better yet, those of us EOTR "deserve" because of the perception people have about us. Let's not get so outraged about what Mike said and realize it's somewhat consistent with our usual discussion about, "engineers, roads, city officials kill pedestrians" and "people who elect xyz or support xyz initiative" are [insert favorite disparaging term (like Nimby) here.

Besides, what Mike said is what many of you have long-stated about Republicans...including Bob McDonnell. Don't get offended now.

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

Its true that Va is very conservative on a number of issues with human rights implications, and its reasonable for people concerned about those issues to take issue with Va politics (and its true despite our voting record in elections in even numbered years)

Its also true that DC has a record of corrupt politics, and often race baiting politics. And that EOTR has a lot of crime, much of it commited by people who live EOTR, for reasons one can debate.

and its also true that bad street design results in ped deaths, whoever is actually responsible for that design.

And its also true that SOME people who oppose a given initiative would be okay with it as long as its not near them and are thus technically NIMBYs - and others who are not (because they oppose XYZ anywhere) are nonetheless extremist, irrational, and motivated by fear of change.

All those are true.

But the focus should be on how to achieve change, not making snide remarks about entire groups of people.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

So let's all focus on the gas tax and the proposal by the Va. governor rather than snipe back and forth about which side of the potomac is better.

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

@Frank: see paragraph 6 in the article, "No sales tax at the pump either."

I kind of agree about tearing down the "we paid for the roads, therefore we own the roads" social construct that arose in the 1930s alongside the gas tax, but the fact remains that this policy would constitute a huge giveaway for drivers.

by Payton on Jan 10, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

But the focus should be on how to achieve change, not making snide remarks about entire groups of people.

I agree. And that would be entirely inconsistent with how we've engaged here.

and its also true that bad street design results in ped deaths, whoever is actually responsible for that design.

Ahh, the "gun manufacturers kill people..not the people who use them" idea. Well alrighty then!

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

"I agree. And that would be entirely inconsistent with how we've engaged here."

I don't know if thats a reference to this thread, or to the general focus of GGW. I've seen lots and lots of posts, and lots of comments on GGW about how to change things. Thats what makes this blog worth reading. I have to wonder, if you dislike it so much, why do you keep reading it?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

"and its also true that bad street design results in ped deaths, whoever is actually responsible for that design.

Ahh, the "gun manufacturers kill people..not the people who use them" idea. Well alrighty then!"

It is a fact that bad street design causes pedestrian deaths, and improved street design reduces it. I dont see how your comment speaks to that.

I would note, that if poorly designed guns resulted in lots of gun accidents, gun users would probably point that out. You arent suggesting that most fatalities involving pedestrians are the result of intentional homicide on the part of the motorist, are you?

I suggest you read DP Moynihans article from a couple of decades back on auto safety. He discussed, IIRC, how the focus used to be entirely on improving behavior. Then, after Ralph Nader, the govt mandated seat belts and other safety features, and the auto accident death toll began to decline.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

So, if the sales tax will pay for all roads, then why shouldn't it pay for all transit, eliminating the need for fares?

Well, two problems with that:

- if the goal is parity between roads and transit, then you would also need to eliminate tolls.

- there is not enough sales tax revenue to pay for all transit (nor is there enough to pay for all roads).

by Scoot on Jan 10, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

I have to wonder, if you dislike it so much, why do you keep reading it?

Nice try. But it does make sense to actually comprehend - not just read - what I said. In fact, you just gave a rundown of the usual means of attack, (DC politics, EOTR, NIMBYS etc). These are a few of the very same topics that causes many here (YES on GGW) to "make snide remarks about entire groups of people." Yes, this happens all the time here not excluding the many discussions had about republicans..and their politics.

Now what in the same hell does any of those documents facts have to do w/whether I "dislike" GGW or not? Again, nice try but this is definitely one of your moments of failure.

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

Ahh, the "gun manufacturers kill people..not the people who use them" idea. Well alrighty then!

Uhh, if they manufacture a gun that they know has flaws that lead to users' deaths, like backfiring, then yes, they are responsible for that. Same as if we design streets that are flawed that then leads to people's deaths.

Not sure why this is controversial. It all depends on where you draw the line between "normal function" and "flaw" and obviously yours leans towards the "beep beep outta my way!" mentality.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

scoot

See my post above at 10:46. Today we toll a few high capacity roads - in NoVa the only toll roads are DTR, the Greenway, the Express lanes on 495. Express lanes on I95 are under construction. everything else - i66, i395, the conventional lanes on I495 and I95, fairfax county parkway, GW parkway, rte 50, 29, 1, 7, etc as well as all local arterials, feeders, etc are toll free.

To maintain parity, and to conserve funds, it would make sense to keep fares on select mass transit lanes - I would especially suggest maintaining (or even raising) fares where congestion is an issue - that would be for anyone crossing via the Rossly-Foggy Bottom tunnel as a start. Maybe elsewhere on the orange and blue lines (at peak only, of course)

We could eliminate fares on local bus lines, which are more equivalent to local arterials, as a start.

If THAT is too much, how about simply eliminating fares on all local buses into Tysons (FFX connector on Gallows Rd, and WMATA buses from Vienna, Mclean, Falls Church)? Which would support the county goal of increasing transit share into Tysons (and which would certainly benefit all who drive into Tysons)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

It is a fact that bad street design causes pedestrian deaths, and improved street design reduces it.

Yes, and that's your conclusion based on your own "ideological" leaning...but all subjective. I believe the consensus here was that the MoCo principle, who chose not to use the provided crosswalk, was a victim of bad street design/engineers.

But of course that wasn't making snipes about an entire road system/profession. It was just voicing your opinion...not actually sniping. Well alrighty then x's 2!!!

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

"Yes, this happens all the time here"

I find it happens much less here than almost any place else on the internet. I find this blog particular focused on policies and solutions.

Again, thats why i read it.

I personally cannot imagine regularly reading a blog whose tone I found to be mostly snark I objected to.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Scoot
A simple rundown as to why it is completely fair for drivers to pay MORE than their "share" of constructing roads and for transit users to pay LESS than their "share" of transit costs:

Driving creates many disbenefits like congestion, fuel waste, greenhouse gas and other pollution, etc. that drivers do not pay for. These things are not factored into the cost of roads but still have a cost. So if drivers pay more than what it costs to build roads (they don't even meet the cost now) then that is fair because there are other costs.

Transit use creates many positive benefits for drivers and others who do not use it. Decreased congestion, less fossil fuel use, etc. Part of the cost of transit is offset by the value of these benefits. Why should transit users have to pay for benefits that they do not receive?

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

"Yes, and that's your conclusion based on your own "ideological" leaning...but all subjective."

No, its based on what I have read. I dont think its really a matter of controversy among engineers.

"I believe the consensus here was that the MoCo principle, who chose not to use the provided crosswalk, was a victim of bad street design/engineers."

I don't recall there was a consensus. In any case, whatever the case was in that particular incident does not rule out that bad design does cause pedestrian deaths.

It sounds like you think discussion of road safety should rule out issues of safe road design. That seems very odd to me. Safe product design, safe facility design, is central to discussions of safety in every other area.

The Transportation Research Board is meeting in DC next week. Perhaps you should pay a visit - I think you will find safe road design is an important topic.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

and obviously yours leans towards the "beep beep outta my way!" mentality.

And obviously you don't know what you're talking about considering that I walk, bus and train it 90% of the time.

Uhh, if they manufacture a gun that they know has flaws that lead to users' deaths, like backfiring, then yes, they are responsible for that.

Ohhh, you mean like if on those elementary-aged kids were hit attempting to cross at that unmarked crosswalk (discussed a few months back) in MoCo, then it would be considered poor "design" since it caused people to travel 5 minutes outside of what they considered the better location at which to cross.

Oh wait. It probably would be that the city was responsible. ...hahahaha

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

hogwash

Im not sure why you are trying to restart the discussion of that particular incident. Some people thought the road design was poor, some did not. Thats the nature of debates about product and facility safety - it is possible to disagree, and to be wrong.

But that does not mean that saying poor road design causes pedestrian deaths is the equivalent of snarking at a group of people. Its not.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

I personally cannot imagine regularly reading a blog whose tone I found to be mostly snark I objected to.

Neither do I. Which is why I don't frequent those sites.

I don't recall there was a consensus.

That's fair. And you likely also don't recall the pedestrian being mostly blamed for her own death. I think it was split between the driver and road design. In fact, didn't the article's headline make the "road/engineers kill" point? Can't remember.

It sounds like you think discussion of road safety should rule out issues of safe road design. That seems very odd to me

And it would be odd. Thankfully, that's not the case.

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

"It sounds like you think discussion of road safety should rule out issues of safe road design. That seems very odd to me

And it would be odd. Thankfully, that's not the case."

good. then I dont know what we are debating. Surely you aren't obsessed with some folks disagreeing with you on a post that was months ago.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Now can we can back to transportation in Virginia - to those of us who actually live in Va, thats not an unimportant issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

Driving creates many disbenefits like congestion, fuel waste, greenhouse gas and other pollution, etc. that drivers do not pay for. These things are not factored into the cost of roads but still have a cost. So if drivers pay more than what it costs to build roads (they don't even meet the cost now) then that is fair because there are other costs.

Transit use creates many positive benefits for drivers and others who do not use it. Decreased congestion, less fossil fuel use, etc.

Well, driving creates many, many benefits -- namely, facilitating commerce by quickly, flexibly efficiently moving people and goods around the region. It also affords people a lot of social and economic opportunity inherent to their enhanced mobility. The societal benefits are reaped by everyone in the region, not just drivers.

And drivers actually do pay for congestion, fuel waste and pollution. They pay for the costs of congestion in the form of lost productivity and less time with loved ones; they pay for fuel directly; they are subject to the same pollution levels as non-drivers, and via their taxes they also pay for the same efforts to curb pollution and/or repair environments damaged by pollution as everyone else. Remember that drivers make up a large majority of taxpayers in this region, so one might say that as a collective, drivers pay more than their share.

Transit also has costs. A transit system like WMATA requires thousands of fuel burning vehicles as well as electricity draw generated by polluting coal plants. To build a large scale system often necessitates large, resource-intensive construction projects that can damage the environment.

I could go on with the costs of benefits of both systems. Depending on your values, one is not inherently better than the other. They both confer many benefits as well as costs for society.

by Scoot on Jan 10, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

scoot

are you familiar with the distinction between an internalized cost and an external cost (and ditto, benefit)? Internal costs are ones we bear due to our own activities, and external ones are those we impose on others.

The benefits of driving are considerable - but for the most part, they are not external - the driver reaps them.

Also that something is internalized to drivers as a class, but is an externality to any partricular driver, is not irerelevant.

If you are discussing some abstract intergroup equity, I suppose the fact that many of those harmed by auto pollution are also drivers is an offset. If we are talking about optimal pricing - the fact that drivers are harmed by auto pollution (higher per passenger mile than transit) is no reason not to charge for it - I am driver, but its in my interest to charge all drivers, so that congestion and pollution I experience are reduced. Thats not true for transit - since more people on transit makes the roads I drive less congested (unless its a road to a transit station, which is an issue for park and ride)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

"I could go on with the costs of benefits of both systems. Depending on your values, one is not inherently better than the other. They both confer many benefits as well as costs for society."

Indeed its sometimes a positive cost benefit to build a highway, and sometimes a negative cost benefit to build a transit line. I dont think many of us would dispute that.

Thats not whats at issue however. Whats at issue is whether incremental auto miles should be priced (via gas tax, sales tax on gas, vmt tax, or toll) and whether incremental transit rides should be priced, and whether either should be subsidized.

Almost all benefits of an incremental auto mile are internalized to the driver and her passengers. While many of the costs are imposed on others, both drivers and non drivers. While incremental transit users, WHEN they are riding in place of driving, are net BENEFITING others. And except in the most crowded transit lines, they are NOT adding to cost (or if they are, its much below the average cost/per passenger of running the system)

The general result is that makes sense to price both, but the argument for a subsidy vs average cost for transit riders is strong - while the optimal price for peak period motorists is probably slightly above average cost (but for off peak motorists, well below)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

Yes, I do know the difference between an intrinsic cost and an extrinsic cost. And I also never said that drivers being harmed by auto pollution is no reason not to charge for it. I said that drivers pay for the costs of auto pollution, which says nothing of whether they should continue to pay.

The benefits of driving are considerable for drivers and for non-drivers. Congestion also poses costs on non-drivers (because people and goods that non-drivers depend on cannot move within the region quickly, flexibly and efficiently), but most of the costs of congestion are borne by drivers themselves. The costs of pollution are more or less borne equally by everyone in society.

And the data on congestion does not really show that more people on transit makes roads less congested. A lot of the data shows that more transit causes roads to become congested less quickly than they would in the absence of transit. This is still a benefit to drivers, but it is also a benefit for non-drivers. Further, the data on induced demand shows more or less that eventually a region (particularly a region with a large and extensive road network) will reach its congestion capacity regardless of how much transit is available.

The data has shown that the best ways to actually reduce congestion (without collapsing the economic viability of a region) is to reduce road capacity and to increase the cost (to drivers) of road space. But in order not to collapse the region's economy, you will need viable alternatives, and that's where transit comes in.

by Scoot on Jan 10, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

All those are true. But the focus should be on how to achieve change, not making snide remarks about entire groups of people.

Seems to me that started the back and forth between us. Don't know what was particularly confusing about the point of origin..since you're the one who said it.

Surely you aren't obsessed with some folks disagreeing with you on a post that was months ago.

Nope. Just pointing out that the sniping you suggest we don't do...is consistent with what we actually do. If you consider that an obsession..it won't be the first of 30th time we've disagreed. Obviously, nothing is an insult or sniping unless you're on the receiving end.

by HogWash on Jan 10, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

@Scoot

You have made a lot of bold claims, and ignored most of the externalities that AWITC pointed out.

I said that drivers pay for the costs of auto pollution

Drivers currently pay absolutely nothing for the cost of auto polution. Drivers pay registration fees, inspections and other miscellaneous fees, and state and local gas taxes. The sum of which doesn't even cover the cost of maintaining roadways, much less expanding, see the federal and state and local governments recent constant transfers of funds to cover shortfalls.

The benefits of driving are considerable for drivers and for non-drivers.

How are the benefits of driving considerable... for non-drivers? When I bike in DC, people driving is of no advantage to me. Of course, delivery drivers need to be on the road, but how do benefits of driving go to non-drivers, even in the slightest??

Congestion also poses costs on non-drivers

Costs non-drivers, caused by drivers.

A lot of the data shows that more transit causes roads to become congested less quickly than they would in the absence of transit. This is still a benefit to drivers, but it is also a benefit for non-drivers.

Of course they become congested less quickly, because there are less people using them. I have no clue how again this is a benefit to non-drivers. It is the people who aren't driving, who aren't causing congestion, and the people who are driving, who are causing congestion.

And the data on congestion does not really show that more people on transit makes roads less congested.

Oh come on. If you take 10% of the cars off the beltway on any given day, does it move more smoothly?

Further, the data on induced demand shows more or less that eventually a region (particularly a region with a large and extensive road network) will reach its congestion capacity regardless of how much transit is available.

This is not what induced demand is.

by Kyle-W on Jan 10, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

For the folks seriously considering the idea of making roads and transit free and just charging a higher sales tax to pay for it all. Why not extend the logic to air travel? Wouldn't it be great if flying was free and the costs would simply be distributed among everyone through a sales tax? In that case, I'd fly to the beach every weekend.

by Falls Church on Jan 10, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

"Just pointing out that the sniping you suggest we don't do"

I never said no one here does it. What I said was that its done less here, and this blog is more focused on ways to get change, than most fora on the internet. By far.

Certainly to the point where harping on the occasional sniping, sometimes seems like an attempt to obstruct the conversation, rather than advance it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

Falls church - you want the serious answer? because the non road cost of driving - the pretax gas, auto wear and tear,mean the excess driving is at least limited. the parallel in air travel would be if airlines (and thus passengers) still had to pay for planes, pilots, and jet fuel, but the govt provided the airports and air traffic control free (and ceased to charge user fees). Which would be poor policy, and no one is proposing, but would probably leave you in the DC area at least some weekends.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 5:09 pm • linkreport

and yeah, thats why we can't eliminate fares on rail transit lines - one city in china tried that recently,and it created chaos.

but we could make the fare on local bus lines into Tysons be, say, 10 cents.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

If Maryland insists that it must build more mass transit in Baltimore and the DC area (something not all local residents prefer btw) a regional sales tax would be the most fair way. First of all I agree with how NOVA is expected to pay for its own tranportation, especially transit needs. In Maryland, statewide taxes go to mass transit which means Eastern Shore and Western Maryland residents have to subsidize the DC Metrorail and the Baltimore Light Rail. In Virginia, residents of Lynchburg and Danville don't have to fund projects in Fairfax.

A sales tax is more fair since everyone pays it. The current gas tax redistributes the revenue to fund mass transit, and mass transit users don't pay their fair share. With a sales tax, Metro riders also will be paying, since the fares do NOT cover the operating and maintenance costs of the system. Even the NYC Subway does not break even with its commuter and tourist fares and must rely on gasoline taxes. Nobody can escape sales taxes, not even illegal immigrants. And everyone uses the transportation infrastructure not just drivers.

I will accept the gas tax as a user fee when none of it is used to fund train systems, and when Maryland's raiding of the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for unrelated liberal entitlement programs stops.

by Eric on Jan 11, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

Residents of Fairfax now have to fund projects in Lynchburg and Danville in addition to projects in Fairfax. This will become even more of the case under the proposed plan. I'm not sure a lot of people realize how much revenue northern Virginia generates, and how much of it is spread out among rural projects. (I would assume this is true of Maryland concerning Baltimore and the Eastern Shore as well.)

As far as my own complaints about the need to frame the debate around traffic fatalities: I have some broad points to make about that as creating some kind of narrative, subconsciously and otherwise, but I'll get into those later.

by J.D. Hammond on Jan 11, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

In Maryland, statewide taxes go to mass transit which means Eastern Shore and Western Maryland residents have to subsidize the DC Metrorail and the Baltimore Light Rail.

Maybe this is true if you only count the x% of every gas tax dollar that is transferred to rail, but I have to guess if you take the amount contributed in gas tax dollars by those eastern shore and western counties and compare it to the amount spent on road projects in those areas they are getting more than they put in.

by MLD on Jan 11, 2013 5:54 pm • linkreport

Well, i do give Gov. McDonnell a tad bit of credit. Unlike Governor O'Malley, at least McDonnell is proposing SOMETHING. As regressive and non-sensical as it may be, at least he is proposing SOMETHING. Here, we fiddle (er, guitar) while Rome burns

by frustrated marylander on Jan 13, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

With out citing individual comments, I'll respond quickly.

The problem with this proposal is not that it doesn't charge people to use the roads, it's that it doesn't charge them to pollute, cause congestion and otherwise do bad things. It also creates the unusual situation where transit users will be less subsidized than everyone else.

Roads are a public good. We should have them and we should pay for them and government should take care of that. Just like they do other public goods like libraries, parks and universities.

If we're going to have government do things, we have to tax people to pay for them. So the question is really how are we going to tax citizens to pay for roads.

User fees do appeal to our sense of fairness, but that isn't really the reason to have them. The reason to have them is that they dissuade over-consumption, and gridlock is proof that their is over-consumption of roads. So one reason to tax gasoline is that it is a proxy for road use and we want to limit driving. There is also a consensus on this. Almost every government at every level from local to federal to the UN has said that they want people to drive less.

The other reason to tax gasoline is as a pigovian tax. Gasoline use causes pollution and uncomfortable foreign entanglements. And as a proxy for driving it covers the negative externalities of roads (sprawl, pollution, disconnected communities, fatalities, property damage etc...)

On top of that, we should subsidize transit, walking and biking more than we do roads because they tend to have positive externalities - primarily better health from more exercise, but also social interaction, for example.

It's OK to subsidize roads, because they are a social good - buses, ambulances etc.. use them. We're better off for public roads. But we really shouldn't subsidize driving by much because of all the negative externalities and certainly far less than we subsidize walking, biking and transit.

Ideally, we'd tax gasoline at a rate that covers all the environmental costs of gasoline use and possibly a little extra to pay for the military costs associated with keeping that supply available [one might argue that we don't do that with any other commodities, but then I doubt anything has such high costs associated with it. If I'm wrong than I'd be open to doing this elsewhere]. We'd also add in congestion taxes and use the revenue to pay for transit, biking, walking, telecommuting etc... Finally, we'd add in a VMT to pay for the negative externalities of roads themselves. All of this would have the desired effect to make people drive less and pollute less when they do.

Then, yes, we can pay for roads out of general revenue just like we do universities and parks. But we should probably use a property tax to do so. It's progressive and nearly all of the people charged it will be able to deduct it from their federal income taxes. Only 6% of Virginia taxpayers choose to deduct their sales tax from their federal taxes, and that is only 1% of the local/state deduction for Virginia.

So it's bad policy, it's bad strategy, it's bad for the environment, it's bad for public health, it's bad for geopolitical reasons, it's bad for livability and it's bad politics. But, I suppose, it's not unfair. It's just stupid. Which is perhaps worse.

by David C on Jan 13, 2013 10:26 pm • linkreport

Politically, this is very stupid.

OK, assume it is for 2016. He's going to get slammed for proposing to raise the sales tax and the alternative fuel cars tax. He's going to be left defending that he was cutting other taxes, but also instituting new ones. The ad would be over and over again that McDonnell proposed to raise the sales tax.

And yes, the $100 tax is nothing more than spite against environmentalists.

btw, I lurk, but great blog David.

by Jerome Armstrong on Jan 14, 2013 3:29 am • linkreport

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