While Governor Bob McDonnell proposes to scrap the gasoline tax on the grounds that drivers are shifting to more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternate fuels, the state of Washington is heading in a very different direction — instituting a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax.
According to the Associated Press, a committee of transportation experts recently concluded that it was feasible to shift from gasoline taxes to a “pay as you go” road-fee system. A virtue of the tax is that it would treat drivers on an equitable basis, regardless of how much gasoline their cars burned. Washington is joining 18 other states in studying the alternative.
The still are technology, privacy and administrative-efficiency issues to work out. It could be 10 years before the state implements a road-user fee, said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “We’re taking it one step at a time. … I think a robust policy debate is absolutely necessary, and a public vetting.”
McDonnell’s solution is to substitute a higher sales tax for the gas tax, thus severing the link between how much people drive and how much they pay into the transportation system. As Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, put it in an email blast yesterday, “The shift to the sales tax punishes the significant numbers of seniors and lower income residents who don’t drive, as well as telecommuters, carpoolers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists who are all helping to reduce our traffic congestion.”
By making cars and trucks bear a proportionate share of the wear and tear they cause on roads, a VMT tax would be a fair, economically efficient way to pay for maintaining Virginia’s roads, bridges and highways.
Transportation Funding Update: This just in… The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has endorsed McDonnell’s transportation funding plan. “Current levels of congestion outside and within our region have placed business growth, tourism, port growth and our military facilities at risk,” states a press release distributed today. The governor’s plan would be broad-based, efficient to collect and sourced from consumers, and it would “enable everyone to pay their fair share.”
Update: Now this just in… The Virginia Association of Automobile Dealers has endorsed the governor’s plan.