It's still early, but 2013 seems to be shaping up as the year of making big plans for state transportation programs. Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell made headlines when he called for replacing the state's 17.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax with a 0.8 cent sales tax and other measures dedicated to transportation funding. But, Virginia is not alone in its search for money to pay for transportation infrastructure. Officials in many other states are looking for new, creative, even politically risky ideas for raising transportation revenue, including hiking gas taxes. In a blog posted last week on its website, the Council of State Governments provided an overview of states that are exploring various funding options. You can read that blog here.What do you think of Virginia Gov. McDonnell's idea of dropping the gas tax in favor of a new sales tax to fund transportation? Would you support the idea in your state? You can answer that question by responding to this week's poll question on ProgressiveRailroading.com, and/or by sharing your thoughts here.
In my estimation, at this time, statewide gasoline and other commercial fuel taxes appear to be doing their job! The challenge at the federal level is to distribute transportation and infrastructure subsidy in the most efficient manner. That manner would be to produce maximum results. Governor McDonnell is to be commended for trying to find extra sources of transportation funding revenue. We must be witness to the success of gas taxes thus far. The program existing works good. Virginia is a high use public transportation state, especially in and around the DC complex. These large megapolis cities on the eastern seaboard and on the west coast should be first to get any available funding from the federal transportation agencies. Small midwestern metro's such as Minneapolis just connect a few suburbs with a medium size business district city with what is termed, "light rail", accent on the word "light", as far as rider numbers. Governor McDonnell would be well served to push for the NEC high-speed upgrades out of DC. Then to add more hard rail commuter connections from outstate Virginia to the DC high speed stationing. Tens of thousands of fast train riders should be the goal for daily count in new and massive NEC rail passenger expansion.
Gov. McDonnell's idea is counterproductive. VA is a pass-through state for two major north-south highways, I-95 and I-81. His proposal would shift the burden from out-of-state users onto citizens who mostly make limited and occasional use of the freeway system. The answer for VA is to increase its extremenly low gas tax. The argument that this will raise gas prices is not factual - North Carolina has a higher gas tax, and the pump prices are comparable, and in some cases lower than Virginia's. The other argument I've heard is that increasing the gas tax for truckers will raise the retail prices. This is equally ridiculous considering that the miniscule added cost would be spread over consumers nationwide.
As a subject that is exactly tangent to the feature article, "Transportation Funding", may I comment from a professional view on the most recent alliance between the California High Speed Rail Authority and Amtrak! Wonderful, to say the least! Amtrak appears to be going boldly into the future, with a new energy of forward planning never seen before! CHSRA is the model for any state of the union with ideas of hs-rail. With their dual order of hs-rail passenger train sets, efficiency in designing rail operations is here, now. America has long been the world leader in aircraft design, research and build, why not in the production of high-tech rail passenger equipment? Of paramount importance being design and build of high percentage right here in America. Our nation's social/economic demographics are changing. The recent, "great recession" damaged our outlook and injured the romance of our blessed country. More younger citizens just fresh from educations and in their early 20's are leaning towards public transportation, riding bikes, even walking to work and activities. My own daughter, a young and savvy University of California professor, sold her new Mustang GT convertible and decided to take public transit to work, as she loves the Capital Coridor trains, which have bike racks right on the train! No more high gasoline prices and car insurance for that girl! For long trips she even has entertained the idea of sleeper-class on Amtrak continental trains! She anticipates one day jumping on California hs-trains out of the Bay Area and visiting friends in LA. She has the iconic image of travel in the future. America is changing.
A sales tax shifts the cost of roads built for heavy trucks onto the public; and the public is not the only trucking customer. What is posed as keeping down the cost of goods also benefits, and changes, the competitive landscape for transportation, especially for CSX, NS. and any shortlines. The public becomes the primary provider of roads, not the road users.
The shift to a sales tax is regressive, an undue burden on the middle and low income folks and even worse for the poor.
A sales tax removes part of the incentive for fuel efficiency.
If Virginia is like other states, the shortfall in fuel taxes for road construction and maintenance is made up for from the general fund and a general burden on the public. Here again, the middle and low income folks wind up paying a higher effective tax rate. If the fuel tax, augmented by a vehicle-mile tax, would relieve the pressure on the general fund.
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