Clear Thinking at the Legislative Black Caucus

I may have my disagreements with the Legislative Black Caucus over the Apologizing-for-Slavery issue, but I have to commend the group for clear thinking about transportation funding. According to Michael Hardy with the Times-Dispatch, the Caucus proposed a two-year, $2 billion road-financing plan that relies primarily upon a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax, supplemented by $500 million from budget surpluses, an increase in vehicle registration fees and revenues from the tax on auto-insurance premiums.

It is axiomatic that I oppose dumping more money into Virginia’s transportation system until that system is fixed. However, if you’re going to dump money into a broken system, do in a way that causes the least damage possible. The Black Legislative Caucus plan is vastly preferable to the Republican plan in that (a) it is transparent — for the most part, people are aware how they’re paying the tax and what it goes to, and (b) it is a user-pays tax.

Del. Kenneth R. Melvin, D-Portsmouth, explained the logic: “If you use the roads, you pay for their construction and maintenance,” he said. The proposal also would capture dollars from out-of-state motorists traveling in Virginia.

I’ve said it over and over, and I will say it until I’m blue in the face: By increasing the cost of driving in a very transparent way, the gas tax doesn’t just fund new construction: It creates creates a concrete incentive for people to drive less. The impact on driving may be modest, but it beats subsidizing driving, which the GOP plan would do.

In the long run, as hybrids, electrics and fuel-cells enter the marketplace, the gas tax is not viable. But of all the road-financing schemes on the table, it is the least bad. And it establishes a precedent — the user pays — that could lead to a mileage-based user fee and congestion tolls down the road.

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2 responses to “Clear Thinking at the Legislative Black Caucus”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’d agree with this – partially – with some major caveats outlined below.

    Index the gas tax – and dedicate all of it to maintenance, including the bridges not fixed… AND incremental improvements and network optimization.

    New gas taxes ONLY for specific projects and a valid CIP for each one – which means that they have a projected construction date AND a projected cost (adjusted for inflation for both construction costs and Right of way.

    If you just up the tax 10 cents to raise 500 million – what will happen to it?

    If you cannot answer that question then what next?

    Last time – VDOT distributed to each District – how much money they would get and what it would be spent on which was GOOD.

    The BAD was that the 6yr plans were bogus. They had lowball cost estimates, no projected build dates and no projected costs with inflation factored in.

    This is not an argument about pro-roads or anti-roads. This is a simple thing about transparency and accountability AND, more important fiscal responsibility.

    Until we have a system that ranks and prioritizes projects that have viable funding and programming… we are in trouble.

    And it’s not like these things don’t exist.

    Every single local transportation referenda that has succeeded – and there are dozens – actually did the above things.

    They had specific projects and specific costs.. and the roads got done as promised.

    Spotsylvania had a major hiccup with theirs because they actually believed VDOT low-ball estimates.

    Once they hired a consultant to get true numbers.. they were able to get into the process of making hard decisions about what they could afford to build or defer or work with developers using proffers/CDAs/TIFs.

    It’s NOT where the money comes from.

    It’s WHERE it is spent that is the problem that we have not solved.

  2. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    There is no problem with where it will be spent. Just look at the legislation. If it goes into the trust fund it will be allocated by Vehicle Miles Traveled, not congestion or need. The proposed NoVa fund goes by population not need.

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