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The compromise legislation is flawed but is worth preserving after a quarter century of inaction on road revenue.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The far-right wing of the Republican Party is angry that Gov. Bob McDonnell brokered a bipartisan deal with Virginia lawmakers that, by 2018, will raise $880 million a year to fix the state’s crumbling transportation system.
Liberal Democratic lawmakers from gridlocked Northern Virginia are dismayed the governor got his way on a $100 annual fee he’d proposed on alternative-fuel vehicles to make up for the hit to the commonwealth’s coffers from lower gas tax receipts.
No one sounds happy, and that sounds about right. We don’t like big parts of this year’s transportation funding package either.
That there is a revenue package at all, though, outweighs its flaws. We urge the governor to sign it without major amendment, lest the precarious compromise fall apart.
That would deny him his legacy and, far worse, rob the commonwealth of critically needed investment in transportation infrastructure.
McDonnell’s long-assumed national political ambitions have taken at least a temporary dip. He miscalculated if he thought GOP tea party ideologues would stray a hair’s breadth from their unshakable anti-tax faith.
His otherwise impeccable conservative record and fruitless, three-year search for alternatives seem to count for nothing among true believers. But then, if they were suffocating on the commuter-choked roads of suburban Washington, they’d spend their last breath fuming about taxes rather than concede Virginia might have neglected roads, rail and mass transit a tad too long.
There is enough to dislike in this package to discomfort liberals, as well.
The so-called Prius tax is poor policy if the state wants to encourage drivers to buy more expensive hybrids and other alternative-fuel vehicles to cut carbon emissions and improve air quality. Owners complain a $100-a-year fee will outstrip any savings in fuel costs.
We trust the governor will fix the language in the bill to eliminate an unintended fee on mopeds. But McDonnell’s reasoning is sound in wanting hybrid car owners who pay less in gas taxes to share the cost of building and maintaining roads that they use, too.
Yes, gasoline still will be taxed. Virginians won’t pay a fixed per-gallon levy when they fill up, but the state will charge a 3.5 percent tax on the wholesale price that will be reflected at the pump, and rise with inflation.
The agreement’s worst feature by far is in shifting a greater portion of transportation costs from a user fee to a larger share of the state’s general sales tax, which also is to increase to 5.3 percent from 5. If all goes as planned, Virginia will siphon nearly $200 million from the state’s general fund — where it would go to education, health and public safety — over to transportation by 2018.
The raid on government services, one of McDonnell’s priorities, was a bitter pill for Democrats to swallow. But they, the governor and enough of his fellow Republicans all gave ground to reach a necessary compromise. That’s governance — something tea party principles do not allow.
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