If Virginia removes its meager gasoline tax, the state, economic history shows, will have more people driving more places more frequently, which will increase congestion, add to the nation’s oil import tab and force the United States to keep expensive military forces near foreign oil fields. It will accelerate the oil world’s yearning to drill above the Arctic Circle, boost further strip-mining for Canadian tar sands and potentially destroy the nation’s largest underground aquifer with devastating spills, all the while expanding the “need” for more expensive Virginia highways which the state can’t afford to build.
One has to wonder if our political world has lost the capacity for reason. In pandering to motorist-voters, are politicians willing to damage virtually every other aspect of our existence? The governor’s proposal indicates that politicians have lost the ability to think beyond the next election.
As Governor McDonnell can’t run for governor again, perhaps he believes that catering to our driving self-absorption is the way he becomes senator. Wouldn’t it be grand if he, a la Governor Christie of New Jersey, would want to be a statesman before being a politician?
Why doesn’t our governor seem to care about anything besides drivers? After promising federal gasoline tax dollars for a highway through greater Charlottesville, which virtually no one locally wants, he’s thrown a billion dollars at a toll road paralleling an under-utilized major highway in Southwestern Virginia and now wants to create more congestion by saving Virginia drivers 17 cents a gallon, all but ensuring that they drive more.
In a 2010 comprehensive analysis of the “externalities” – or unrecovered costs — of driving, The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute calculated that American society already pays 54 cents for every mile driven. Most of these externalities, unfortunately, don’t register in drivers’ brains. For example, taxpayers are putting almost $20 million a day (yes, a day) keeping carrier groups in and near the Persian Gulf to ensure that the Iranians don’t squeeze world oil supply by closing the Strait of Hormuz. America, however, receives only a fraction of that oil flow. Most goes to our primary economic adversary, China.
The National Defense Council Foundation in 2006 analyzed gasoline’s externality costs, not including wars in oil fields and greenhouse emissions, and calculated that, primarily for lost economic opportunity and preventive defense costs, we should be paying $10.06 per gallon in taxes. If we didn’t so greatly undercharge for gasoline and diesel in transportation, NRDC pointed out that local manufacturers, farmers and artisans could compete with Chinese and other foreign imports.
Motorist voters like to think gasoline prices are too high but only Mexico, amongst all the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development nations, has lower tax-included gasoline prices than the U.S. As a percentage of income, Americans are paying almost exactly what their great, great grandparents paid for auto fuel in the 1920s.
Indeed, the Bowles-Simpson commission specifically called for raising auto fuel taxes as a way to deal with the states’ existing deficits in roadway-repair funding and our national, never-ending, debt crisis.
Yet our governor wants to eliminate gasoline taxes? It’s hard to imagine a dumb and dumber policy for the long-term good of we, the people.