The Chichester Gambit

Sen. John H. Chichester, R-Northumberland, is floating the idea of imposing a 5 percent tax on gasoline as an alternative to the grab-bag of taxes proposed in the GOP Senate-House compromise plan. If Chichester’s gambit gets traction — and it has some support in the Senate, especially among Hampton Roads Democrats — it could unravel the compromise, report Michael Shear at the Washington Post and Christina Nuckols and Warren Fiske at the Virginian Pilot.

Chichester’s gas-tax idea does have its virtues. First, it is simple and transparent; taxpayers would see the tax — an extra $1.25 per $25 fill-up — at the pump. Second, because it is transparent, the added expense will induce motorists to drive less. In that regard, the gas tax contrasts favorably to the “dog’s breakfast” (as Bart Hinkle describes it in his column today) called for by the GOP compromise. The GOP taxes are spread over so many sources of income, including General Fund surpluses, they are entirely opaque to the motorist. The end result: They would subsidize driving, not discourage it.

On the other hand, Chichester’s idea would represent an entirely new tax, raising about $600 million a year. That’s significantly more than the new revenue raised through the GOP compromise, which makes it a deal killer in the House. I have to agree with the House GOP sentiment on this: There is no justification to raise taxes while the state is running chronic budget surpluses.

Ultimately, the only viable long-term solution is to move to a transportation-funding system based upon a mileage fee to pay for maintenance and congestion tolls to raise funds for highway improvements. Nobody likes paying fees, but the idea can be sold politically because (a) the concept is simple and transparent and (b) people get something (access to roadways) in exchange for what they pay. There would be minimal disintermediation by the state political class.

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19 responses to “The Chichester Gambit”

  1. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Gee – we seem to have over looked the 1% sales tax hike for Hampton Roads!

    Senator Taxcehster threw that in too.

    Interesting when you consider that in November 2002 we held a referendum in Hampton Roads and the voters rejected a 1% hike in the sales tax to pay for the same bad “package” of highways that HB 3202 & SB 1514 are pushing.

    Folks – asked and answered – we already told these folks up in Richmond “No!” – loud and clear (by a 2 to 1 margine opposed!).

    What part of “No!” doesn’t Senator Taxchester understand???

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Isn’t a gas tax, as proposed by Senator Chichester, a “mileage fee”? Help me out here.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 10:45, yes a gas tax is akin to a mileage fee, but it suffers major drawbacks as discussed at length in previous posts: The gas tax is not a sustainable *long-term* source of revenue. Hybrids, fuel-cells and electric cars will severely erode gas tax revenues within 5 to 10 years.

    The preferable solution is to track cars and trucks based on actual miles driven, then adjust for their weight, to get a highly accurate gauge of their contribution to wear and tear on state roads. I refer you to my past column, The Oregon Solution”, as to how that might be done.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon and Others:

    I think the Senate has introduced
    into the discussions about how we
    fund our transportation needs an
    important feature … a dedicated
    revenue source to pay for our system.

    It would seem to me John Chichester
    and others have put forth a plan
    that is a blend of the House plan,
    but with a defined revenue source.

    I understand 40% of the traffic
    on our interstates is created by
    motorists not from Virginia.

    We need a tax system
    that travelers and
    truckers using those
    roads can contribute
    to our needed

    This plan protects the
    general fund from being
    drained to meet the needs
    of the House plan, such as
    debt service, thus insuring
    we do not take money away
    from education, health care
    and public safety.

    Three cheers for John and
    others who have produced this plan !!!!


    Rodger Provo

  5. Anonymous 10:45 Avatar
    Anonymous 10:45

    Yeah, I read that column (or most of it). Frankly, the “Oregon Plan” seems a little too “Buck Rogers” for practicality’s sake.

    Taxing non existent (or lt least non used) technology is not going to raise much and, as we know, technology changes. Tomorrow’s technology will become outdated and won’t produce the revenue so we’ll have to chase taxing the technology of the day after tomorrow.

    We need some solution that doesn’t raid the General Fund. The gas tax hits the user.

    Oh well, you say tomato….

  6. Lawrence Avatar

    Yeh… when the Repubs went for the chinese laundry approach they established what they were and from that point on it it was only about the price.

    In terms of raising money, the gas tax makes a whole lot more sense but folks should think about this.

    Five cents will get you 250 million annually.

    Now tell what NoVa and HR share will be… or do you think big enough to think they’ll split it and skunk the rest of Virginia.

    So then… NoVa would get 125 million which will buy.. if they’re lucky about 2 miles of urban interstate.

    This is laughable….

    the point of the numbers above is to point out what 5cents or even 10 cents on the gallon will NOT DO.

    Get it?

    We are tinkling upwind in the breeze… 🙂

    125 million is not chump change… heck in 10 years .. a mere decade.. it’ll be one billion… oh but then I forgot.. about inflation…

    Rodger – how much of the 250 million do you think Fredericksburg will get?

    No matter what they do, they SHOULD .. INDEX the gas tax for inflation… that will at least keep revenues level with maintenance costs.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    For folks who wonder where the debate will go with respect to Congestion Pricing….

    It’s a matter of WHEN, not IF:

    so… how about this outcome:

    1. 5 cent gas tax

    2. 1% regional tax referenda again)

    3. – Congestion Pricing

    Holy Moly – VDOT will be awash in money…

  8. Groveton Avatar

    Somewhere between the “blunt force trauma” of raising the gas tax by 10 – 25 cents per gallon and the “Star Wars” plan Proposed by Oregon is an answer.

    How about this –

    1. The state knows what cars I own. They know the model, year, gas mileage, etc. They know where I live.

    2. Since odomoter readings are recorded when I buy or sell a car and each time I get it inspected (annually) the state also knows how far I drive each car each year.

    3. The state also expects me to pay state income tax every year. So, they have a mechanism to collect money from me.

    They should send me a bill for the miles I have driven taking into account the size, gas milage, etc of the vehicle I drive. I’ll add it to the check I already write to pay my state taxes.

    Objections and resolutions:

    1. Out of state drivers constitute 40% of teh traffic on interstates and they won’t pay a VA tax. Put tolls on the interstates.

    2. This plan does not allow for the state to know where the vehicle was driven – just how far. Make the simplifying assumption that I drive the most in the region where I live. Allocate the transportation monies back to the regions where the taxes are paid. Let the regions sort out their own transportation plans.

    3. This will not allieviate congestion since people will pay the same amount regardless of the level of congestion and regardless of the time of day. So what? People are remarkably adept at avoiding congestion – if they can. The problem is that there is too much congestion not that people are stupid. The stupidity is on the part of the politicians who have let this festering problem lie dormant. Having higher taxes (per unit) for the people driving in congested areas is penalizing the victims of the incompetent politicians.

  9. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    ha, ha, ha, the lobbyists chuckle – yup, they are taling about how to raise taxes – we tricked them into ignoring the real problem – how to reduce traffic congestion bottlenecks.

    The plan is working!


    Raise taxes – for what?

    Ohhh – don’t worry – here, sign this blank contract, we’ll fill in the details for you later – TRUST US – y’all love it!

    In Hampton Roads:

    Yes, a bunch of HIGHWAY economic development projects are listed – but there is no requirement for any cap on cost or date they will be built – if at all.

    Is all of our traffic congestion limited to only HIGHWAYS?


    And then we are inflicted with an unaccountable and all-appointed new regional authority empowered to fill-in-the-blanks later, and SPEND BILLIONS of our hard earned tax dollars.

  10. Anonymous 10:45 Avatar
    Anonymous 10:45

    …I say “tomaaato”….Need I say more?

  11. Groveton Avatar

    Reid’s right.

    The real problem is trying to tie down the politicians.

    They’ll promise one thing then do something else.

    Transparency would force them to account for their use of the transportation funds but what are the odds of getting (and keeping) transparency? Just look at the Republican transportation compromise.

    Even a gas tax gets blurred with a bunch of other taxes until nobody knows what’s what.

    Nope. If the politicians want tolls they need to send me a bill.

    Unfortuantely, the only way to get the politicians to “toe the line” would be an amendment to the state constitution.

  12. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Lawrence – Where did you get the information that NoVA would receive $125 M from Chichester’s plan? That sounds like another big subsidy from NoVA to the rest of Virginia. Fairfax County, for example, pays about 16-17% of the total state sales tax. That’s somewhere around $100 M. If one adds the other counties and cities that comprise NoVA, the contribution from NoVA would certainly exceed the proceeds coming back.

    I thought we (NoVA) had the traffic problems. Why would anyone but a wild-eyed tax-raiser from NoVA vote for this?

    Say what you will about the House GOP plan, but, at least, it would keep all our money at home.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    yeh.. sorry about the Lawrence…. JB’s “upgrade” snagged me in the butt…. still trying to figure it out.

    TMT – I was being sarcastic.

    five cents will raise about $250 million. I was suggesting that even in the best circumstance where NoVa might actually get 1/2 of it from the rest of Virginia that it won’t buy much in terms of pavement. It “might” buy some congestion relief if spent for that explicit purpose but don’t hold your breath.

    I’m betting that as we speak – the potential proceeds are being listed in terms of local projects across Va including Fairfax and NoVa.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Somewhere between the “blunt force trauma” of raising the gas tax by 10 – 25 cents per gallon and the “Star Wars” plan Proposed by Oregon is an answer.”

    TOLLs and variable (time of day) congestion pricing do this right now in a much simplier way.

    When you sign up for an EZ-Pass transponder, they also capture your vehicle typle.

    Then you and me and the guy going from New York to Florida ALL have a choice as to when/where/how/etc.

    Some folks already go north through central PA .. JUST to avoid the North East Toll Roads which… takes traffic off of those roads.

    Some folks… like me… purposely time my arrival in urban areas to NOT be there at rush hour already so more folks would follow that example to either pay less tolls OR for more money.. still receive a relatively congestion-free trip.

    And ALL of this would be possible NOT by each state having to record each vehicle’s “stuff” but one simple transponder that works with almost every electronic toll collection system.

    What’s going on with the politicians is that they are NOT hearing strong enough words from the general public about electronic toll roads and so that gives them the perfect “out” to say that either they don’t “hear” or what they do hear is varied and inconsistent.. and that let’s them stick with the old VDOT slush fund approach to pavement and not congestion relief.

    I’m amazed and astounded that the public does not see nor understand the difference between tolls and taxes in terms of what happens to the money and whether or not it has the potential to reduce congestion or not.

  15. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    You guys go ahead and focus your discussions on raising billions MORE from the taxpayers; Me?

    I’m still waiting … and waiting … for a plan, ANY bill – that includes a strategy for removing accidents from main highways and main interior roadways QUICKLY!!!

    Like I said, the lobbyists LOVE blogs like this – the “conversation” is focusd on raising taxes/fees/new tolls for billions in more government spending.


    Thus no one is paying too much attention to:

    * the economic development projects in the bills that do little to reduce traffic congestion

    * the ever growing bond debt

    * ways to reduce traffic congestion

    * better land use reforms to prevent new lane capacity from being rapidly clogged due to too much development

    * ways to encourage LARGE employers to shift to a different TIME for their “normal” workday

    * More use Telecommuting/Video-teleconferencing

    * REQUIRING caps of spending for each project

    * Reforming VDOT – an organization that has wasted BILLIONS

    * protecting the TTF from more raids in the future – and ending the DUMB practice of “paying back” the TTF with FRANS (Constitutional Amendment)

    * Dumping unaccountable regional authorities – they are NOT needed to deal with this

    * A state-wide strategy for better coordination of road construction and lane repaving that is now a MAJOR cause of traffic congestion.

    * real mass transit that moves large numbers of workers from home to their jobs – not just TOD scams to make developer rich

    * requiring a DATE for WHEN promised new transportation projects MUST BE COMPLETED! And a verifiable study that gives a realistic estimate of how many cars the project will allow – and how much it’s new capacity will REDUCE TRAFFIC CONGESTION below current levels (using a 2006 baseline year as the audited benchmark)

    Guys – the state budget has grown HUGE in the past decade – forget this bogus “wall” between the TTF and the General Fund.

    The GA and many Governors had NO PROBLEM using TTF funds to spend on General Fund “priorities” – so now Transportation is a state priority that requies General Fund and TTF money to deal with a back log.

    This discussion should be about reducing traffic congestion, not taking BILLIONS more away from residents.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I’m still waiting … and waiting … for a plan, ANY bill – that includes a strategy for removing accidents”

    “This discussion should be about reducing traffic congestion, not taking BILLIONS more away from residents.”

    Can this be done with only existing funding without more money whether it be tolls or taxes or whatever?

    Careful on your answer as right now it is projected that every single penny of existing gas tax revenues will be required for maintenance of existing roads.

    Advocacy for change.. needs to be more than advocacy for change.

    Where is the financial plan for what you are advocating?

    I’m only asking for a back-of-the-envelope idea.. not a detailed approach.

    If we run out of money how do we relieve congestion?

    THIS blogger dislikes lobby folks as much as you do along with corrupt regional authorities, VDOT’s hairbrained approach, et al.

    BUT at the end of the day -you have to have a plan, a path to what you are advocating… I believe or else discussion is .. discussion…

    lay down something tangible…

  17. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Reid, For the record, nobody in the state of Virginia, and I mean NObody, has done more to explore transportation alternatives than Bacon’s Rebellion. We have systematically explored zoning and land use reforms, telecommuting, deregulation of mass transit, intelligent transportation systems, on and on. Just go back through our archives in the blog and the e-zine for proof. I’m focusing my blog posts on the revenue issue right now because that’s what’s on the table in the General Assembly.

  18. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun


    I apologize if I appeared to be denigrating the contribution of those that post here. Please don’t think of my posts here in terms of demeaning the intelligent, excellent and thoughtful discussions that your blog encourages. I have read this blog for a few years before I ever posted here. I thought it had a NORVA-Richmond scope and my neck of the woods wasn’t really a topic that would interest its stable of contributors. I eventually rethought that view and realized this forum does seek to examine the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, so I jumped into the fray. I greatly appreciate the out of the box, solutions oriented ideas that are so often shared here.

    My comment on this particular thread at this particular time is simply to refocus the way in which the issue of state transportation is being framed by tax & spend/borrow & spend lobbyists. My hope/intent was to wake us all up from our dreamlike stupor – having been lead down the Primrose Lane by special interests and their bought and paid for politicians – on a path whereby we are spending all our time discussing the best way to raise more tax funds – instead of focusing on discussing how to reduce traffic congestion, identify the root causes of traffic congestion, and encourage alternative patterns of human cohabitation that are sustainable in the future.

    Jim, you write:

    “I’m focusing my blog posts on the revenue issue right now because that’s what’s on the table in the General Assembly.”

    THAT is precisely the point I was making!

    We need to work together to reframe the issue so that “what is on the table” are solutions for reducing traffic congestion and developing creative concepts that can result in sustainable future population growth, and the resulting commercial and residential development required to accommodate population growth.

    We need to refocus our discussion away from simply talking about how to support increases taxes, fees, and add tolls all over Virginia.

    I believe that would be the best use of our time – to focus on solutions for the problem of traffic congestion, once we have a plan that actually helps to solve that problem – then we can estimate a cost – and decide how to pay for it.

    We are allowing ourselves to place the cart before the horse.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I would very much encourage Reid to continue his HR-oriented insights.

    I live half way between NoVa and Richmond in an area where at least 40% of our population are commuters to NoVa so it is from that perspective that some of my comments (not all) are oriented.

    and I think Reid is right.

    At the end of the day – our elected representatives are

    * one of two parties that each “stick together” more than they really represent their constitutents – in my view.

    * convinced that special interests are worthy of more attention and response than citizens.

    * believe that more roads are what the public wants, in part, because they spend more time with lobby folks than citizens.

    * don’t have a clue how to deal with congestion not only at the pavement level but more importantly how to create and maintain a State Level Policy and Legislative orientation to deal with mobility and congestion.

    Throwing them out won’t do any good because the guys that replace them probably will just do what their peers in the GA do… they’ll learn from them.. just like the imates learn from other prisoners.

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