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The Virginia legislature seems poised to adopt a mediocre transportation bill - better than what Governor McDonnell proposed originally, but still pretty bad -- but the voting is likely to be close, as Tea Party Republicans are prepared to vote NO on the Republican Governor's top priority because it includes tax revenues to pay for common goods.

This legislation represents one of the rare occasions where -- despite the gerrymandered super majority Republican control of the House of Delegates -- House Democrats might actually have serious leverage. In looking at this bill, here are three major problems that House Democrats can use their leverage to address:

  1. Wholesale gas tax is lower than general sales tax rate.
  2. Hybrid tax is punitive and the (il)logic doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
  3. There are horrid transportation boondoggles embedded in this that will syphon off $billions (potentially $10s of billions) of limited resources that could be better spent on other transportation projects to improve Virginians' lives, improve Virginia's economy, and better serve Virginia's future.

For how VA Democrats can address these measures in the waning hours of the legislative session, see after the fold.

Make Wholesale Gas Tax Equal to Sales Tax: While there a myriad of policy reasons why lowering gas taxes are simply bad policy (moving away from user fees, rewarding pollution, hurting efforts to reduce oil imports, promoting things that move money out of Virginia (since VA imports all of its oil products), etc ...), there is a fundamentally bizarre element at play here:  Why is the legislature going to reduce partially the gas tax percentage while increasing the general sales tax? A simple question, "Why should fuel for cars be taxed at a rate lower than that placed on clothing for children?"

Democrats in the House should demand that the wholesale gas tax equal the retail general sales tax rate. [NOTE -- general sales tax is not on the wholesale price of a product, but retail, so even this would advantage gasoline products ...]
Eliminate Hybrid Surcharge:  Again while it is stupid on policy reasons (attacking those seeking modern technology and energy efficiency with lower pollution with lower external costs (such as reduced health implications)), the logic behind the hybrid surcharge doesn't stand up. Governor McDonnell has claimed it is required due to lost gas taxes. However, with the new wholesale gas tax, it would take over 20 years of average driving in a hybrid to lead to lost tax revenue of $100.  And, hybrid vehicles sell for higher prices than non-hybrids -- thus there is more tax revenue on sales and title transfers.  This is a punitive 'anti-green' tax which is simply a punching of those 'greenies' who buy hybrids and who generally favor Democratic Party candidates.
Democrats in the House should say no to this idiot policy which is targeting their own supporters.
Mandate open review of major transportation projects with legislative review before proceeding.  While the Coalfields Expressway is truly the worst (designed more to support Mountain Top Removal using tax dollars than to help better Virginia transportation), there are multiple $multi-billion questionable projects that will -- $ for $ -- do far less than Virginia and Virginians than a wide range of other transportation project options.
House of Delegates Democrats should demand provisions for external review of major projects and legislative approval requirements to reduce the waste of taxpayer resources on 'Roads to Nowhere'.

Originally posted to Virginia Kos on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:16 AM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  In a word, No (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    turn Virginia blue, VA Breeze

    Yes, it's not the best, especially as to #3 where the state still hasn't done a good job of prioritizing its needs.

    On #1 - it converts the current gas tax to a wholesale tax that will be higher than the current gas tax. Yes, less than regular sales tax rate, but an improvement.

    On #2 - agreed its not good policy.  I still don't understand this one - is this an annual $100 fee or just once upon purchase of the car?

    Lastly, it still screws Hampton Roads with the tolls on the downtown and midtown tunnels slated to begin.

    However, no one has any leverage. The joint House-Senate committee has cobbled together a plan. To change it now, with just 10 days left, risks the whole thing and will leave us without a transportation plan - AGAIN.

    Just get it done as is. We need this, it can't be delayed again.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:44:21 AM PST

    •  Actually ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oortdust

      1.  The wholesale tax of 3.1% will not be higher than the current tax.  Let's take a wholesale price of gasoline of $3.50 (higher than today's) multiplied by 3.1 = 10.9 cents.  That is over 30% lower than today's 17.5 cents per gallon.

      2.  The $100 is an annual fee.

      And, no, there is leverage. Do you realize that the "joint House-Senate committee" included 8 Republicans and 2 Dems?  And, zero Dems from the House.  Reality is that the House Dems have the leverage, in talking with Senate Dems, to drive for specific changes in the bill in exchange for voting for it that would then be adopted, as is, in the Senate?  

      A better (oops, less bad) bill would pass in the Senate in a heartbeat -- improvements that House Ds can leverage in exchange for their votes will be approved by the Senate.

      This is a truly lousy and counter-productive bill. The benefits just aren't there for the Commonwealth vs the costs.  Squeezing out improvements shouldn't be 'oh, I give up' because losing this bill isn't necessarily a total disaster. Would a Governor McAuliffe come up with a better bill?

      PS:  As a believer in reasonable user fees, not sure that have the same objections to tolls on tunnels.  Especially if those tolls are leveraged for improved transportation in that same area that help reduce pressure on the tunnels.  What, for example, are the HOT lanes and other tolled roads in Northern Virginia?

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 11:06:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  From the Virginian Pilot (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ScienceMom
        The backbone of the statewide plan converts the 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax to wholesale taxes on gas and diesel fuel and increases the state sales tax to 5.3 percent from 5 percent.

        A 3.5 percent wholesale tax amounting to roughly 10.5 cents per gallon would be applied to conventional gas, and a 6 percent wholesale levy would be assessed on diesel fuel, both yielding a higher per-gallon rate than the current one.

        No, a Governor McAuliffe would not come up with a better bill.  Governor Warner didn't, Governor Kaine didn't and we had more Dems in the GA back then.  How are we going to do better now? The bill is already on thin ice in the House; any amendments to it and more Republicans will vote against it and kill it no matter what Democrats do.

        I have objections to tolls on tunnels when the toll program amounts to a guaranteed 13% return for an out-of-state company to come in and rob us blind. The rates will be out of the state's control.  Kaine started the talks for the program, but Ronald McDonald gave away the farm in the deal that was done.

        Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

        by absdoggy on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 12:43:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Re last ... (0+ / 0-)

          The entire 'outside company' coming in to make guaranteed 10+ % returns angers/frustrates me as well. What do you think has been happening in NoVA for years?  Make this Commonwealth property and income.  However, fix this throughout the Commonwealth.

          You are asserting that House Ds should simply rollover and play tricks when offered a bone rather than seeking to get what they can get from the deal. Perhaps this can be a 100% D and 50% R vote for passage -- if the bill became half-way decent / a little bit better.

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 01:42:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  No Plan Is Better Than This Garbage nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 08:19:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Change.org has an easy to do petition (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oortdust

    creation thingy.

    You should take your bullet points and create a petition. It's free and secure. I get change.org requests to sign petitions on a regular basis.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce. Mark Twain

    by Gordon20024 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:49:33 AM PST

  •  It is a terrible bill (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    only slightly better than the original transportation bill

    I guess the hybrid tax is a personal "FU" to anyone in Virginia who cares enough to drive a hybrid.

    It is a bit tough to turn things around after the George "Macaca" Allen and Jim "no car tax" Gilmore years when the only thing Virginia excelled in was building prisons.

    It seems the GOP will do whatever it takes to make sure that polluters benefit in Virginia.

    There is just as much horse sense as ever, but the horses have most of it. ~Author Unknown

    by VA Breeze on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 02:52:15 PM PST

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