Greater Greater Washington

Virginia legislators say "raise the gas tax"

In response to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's insane plan to fund transportation by eliminating the gas tax, Democrats in Virginia's House of Delegates have proposed an alternative. It combines Democratic and Republican proposals to increase the gas tax statewide and give Northern Virginia separate authority to raise its own new funds.


Photo by JoshuaDavisPhotography on Flickr.

Yesterday, the House Democratic Caucus outlined principles they believe should underlie any transportation funding plan for Virginia, and offered their support for a collection of 9 alternate bills which they say form a bipartisan path forward and an alternative to the governor's plan.

Among those bills are Republican-written proposals to institute a new 5% fuel tax and to raise sales taxes in Northern Virginia specifically for transportation projects in that part of the state.

Any transportation plan, the House Democrats say, should:

  1. Generate at least $1 billion in new money per year.
  2. Rely on a realistic, dependable source of revenue, based on Virginia's actions, not potential federal changes that may or may not happen.
  3. Not transfer monies that otherwise fund schools, health care, and public safety.
  4. Fund not just maintenance, but construction, including rail and transit.
  5. Provide additional revenue both immediately and into the future.
  6. Give authority to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise additional funds for their own transportation needs.
These are solid principles, and they offer a stark contrast to McDonnell's plan. The governor's proposal would raise far less, and relies on money from the general fund, as well as from a federal Internet sales tax that has not passed Congress.

The 9 specific bills that Democrats cited as true to those core principles are HB1677, HB1878, HB2063, HB2179, HB2253, HB2333, HB1450, HB1472, and HB1633. The House could pick one of those 9 to push, or it could try to amend one of them to combine the best provisions from all.

Republicans control the Virginia House, and the Senate is evenly split, so any plan will need GOP support to pass.

Although it's true that some questionable highway projects would surely be built if Virginia ultimately adopts this transportation funding plan, this also offers far more support for transit and urban needs than the governor's proposal, and it doesn't include as many harmful, regressive policies. This is a far more reasonable outline.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Bravo, a plan that actually raises money rather than a number of tricks aimed at being revenue neutral and then not actually raise much more money anyway.

by drumz on Jan 29, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

De-criminalize cohabitation and make road users pay for the cost of roads, all in one week? This is the Virginia legislature we are talking about? I am honestly shocked. Hopefully we can see some traction, however, Norquist will come calling shortly, and this thing will be very likely be sent to the dustbin, all because the republicans are so against any new revenue, and seemingly don't believe people can pay another .18c a gallon to actually fund the roads they use.

by Kyle-W on Jan 29, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

This seems like a much much better alternative than the governor's plan. But, yeah, if the right wing ideology-industrial complex gets involved, it doesn't stand a chance.

by aaa on Jan 29, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

Any resident of Fairfax County who wants to protect the General Fund needs to be institutionalized. For FY2011 (last available) Fairfax County residents paid 23.4% of the entire Virginia Individual Income Tax, while receiving 9.25% of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) state aid to K-12 education. Any money that Fairfax County can get from the General Fund for Education should be taken as soon as practicable. We don't have an obligation to work against our own interests as some Democrats in the General Assembly would do.

by TMT on Jan 29, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

My impression is that the Democrats in the General Assembly (especially the House) have virtually no power or persuasive ability to initiate anything related to transportation funding, given that the Republicans control the House and (mostly) the Senate.

But the Democrats can scuttle legislation not to their liking, given the near certainty that some Republicans will oppose any effort to increase revenues.

If that is the case, then the alternative plan by the Democrats is probably better viewed as an indication of what can not pass, rather than what will actually gain traction.

by JimT on Jan 29, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

I forgot to add "and for Transportation" as well. A few years ago, Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Jim Scott were able to raid the General Fund for sound walls in McLean and Falls Church. They were generally regarded as heroes in the community.

by TMT on Jan 29, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

Virginia, DC, and Maryland should really come together and raise their gas tax collectively by 3-5%. Together, raising it will not create traffic or loss of business for anyone from people running across the border for cheap fuel. Together they can build the framework for new Potomac crossings, a purple line that rings DC, a new downtown blue tunnel and regional commuter rail that goes from Richmond(or Norfolk) to Perryville(or Philly) with weekend hourly service between Baltimore and Fredericksburg. Money will also be used for other areas of MD and VA.

by Richard Bourne on Jan 29, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Bourne

A higher gas tax in NoVA would most likely be spent on road additions with some money going for transit and bike/pedestrian access. Fairfax County, alone, has a large list of road projects it believes are needed. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for county residents to pay a higher gas tax and not see many of the projects on the county's list built. The County has been very adamant in talking about building more road capacity if more funds are raised.

Further, since Virginia has been paying and will continue to pay for the Silver Line's construction, any shift of funds for Metrorail construction projects in the District or Maryland would be quite problematic, IMO.

by TMT on Jan 29, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

Raise the gas tax: no brainer.
Tax NoVa extra to pay for infrastructure, hell no.

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

"We don't have an obligation to work against our own interests as some Democrats in the General Assembly would do. "

Lets raid the general fund, because its mostly school kids and poor people in the rest of the state who will suffer. (OTOH we should cut the gas tax because it hurts working class guys in rural, Va who drive pickups, to the benefit of Clarendon hipsters)

I am glad I'm a Democrat.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

"any shift of funds for Metrorail construction projects in the District or Maryland would be quite problematic, IMO."

The blue line crossing, though it would be technically located in DC (which owns the river) would clearly exist almost entirely to benefit NoVa.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

Any money that Fairfax County can get from the General Fund for Education should be taken as soon as practicable. We don't have an obligation to work against our own interests as some Democrats in the General Assembly would do.

Normally, I'm all for enlightened self-interest. However, I'm willing to have a government that shows a little generosity in a couple of areas: education and health care. Sure, NOVA gets very little in state education money compared to the taxes we pay. We also get more in transpo spending than we pay in gas taxes. So, "raiding" the General Fund for transpo spending should result in more spending in NOVA for per income tax dollar paid.

However, I'm simply willing to subsidize improved educational opportunities for folks downstate and ensure VA has a top-notch public university system. It's a matter of fairness and generosity but also a smart investment in VA's future because all those folks downstate who become better educated can become the workforce for NOVA's businesses that rely on a large pool of highly skilled people.

That's one of the reasons I'll be voting for Aneesh Chopra for Lt. Governor. He understands the importance of education for all Virginians.

by Falls Church on Jan 29, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

@TMT
The first part of my post was that MD, DC and VA all raise the gas tax, so MD would have money for things in MD, VA would have money for stuff in VA, and DC would have money to contribute to stuff in DC.

Secondly I know that most of that money has been spoken for or is needed elsewhere. In MD it is the same way. The proposed gas tax will be used to fund roads, the MTA purple and red lines.
But this is $1 billion per year. MD's proposal is 700 million per year. 10-15 years from now these moneys can be used on projects that will help build the region. Another bridge across the potomac(or added capacity) is needed. A rail line from Bethesda to Tysons is needed. Marc and VRE need expansion.

by Richard Bourne on Jan 29, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

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