Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Monday, January 14, 2013
The price of gasoline is about $3.15 per gallon, give or take. I bet you’d like to see that dip below the $3 mark, right? Who wouldn’t?
That’s one of the things Gov. Bob McDonnell is counting on with his eyebrow-raising proposal to end Virginia’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline in order to solve Virginia’s long-running transportation funding problems.
But reaction seemed mixed among Roanoke Valley motorists last week shortly after McDonnell trotted out the idea. I drove around town and pestered them at the pumps for their thoughts.
Before we get to those, here’s a brief outline: McDonnell would end Virginia’s tax on gasoline (but not diesel fuel) and he estimates that will save Virginia motorists $3.5 billion at the pump over five years.
To replace that lost revenue, the General Assembly would increase the general sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent. That would apply to clothing, food at restaurants, furniture, appliances, autos, and just about any other item you purchase other than medicine or groceries or vehicle fuel. The current 2.5 percent sales tax on groceries would not increase.
The plan also assumes new revenue from a proposed (but not yet enacted) federal law that would require online retailers to collect sales tax from their customers. (In Virginia, most online purchases are effectively sales-tax-free.)
Registration fees on Virginia vehicles would increase $15 per year; and there would be a special $100-per-year fee on hybrids and electric vehicles. The new revenue is where the state gets the additional money to bail out transportation funding, which has been lagging for more than a decade.
The transportation trust fund would be eliminated. Instead, funding for roads would flow from the general fund, which already funds education, law enforcement and other key programs.
It sounded pretty good to Betty Saunders when I caught her filling up her Oldsmobile sedan at the Liberty station on East Main Street in Salem on Wednesday.
Increasing the sales tax “is better than taxing the gas, I guess,” the Salem resident said. “People need [gas] to get to work, to get to the doctor, to go buy their groceries.”
“I think I’d be favor of it,” said Becky Couture of Moneta, who was buying gas at the Go Mart on Williamson Road. She accepts that the state needs more transportation revenue. But, “I just don’t think we could stand any more tax on the gas.”
But Charles Maltese of Roanoke was adamant: “Absolutely not,” he answered. “If [McDonnell] wants to lower the gas tax, lower the gas tax. But I don’t see why everything else has to be taxed.”
I found Gary Webber of Roanoke County filling up at the Kroger station at Towers Shopping Center. He’s a big fan of the “Fair Tax” on consumption, rather than income.
“I don’t know if taking the fuel tax away is the answer. But I think the general move to a consumption tax is the right direction,” he told me.
Tamra Fain of Roanoke believes it would probably save her money in the long run. “I actually think it’s a good idea,” she said. “I’d be willing to pay eight-tenths of a percent more in sale tax than to be gouged 17 cents [per gallon] at the pumps.”
Over on Franklin Road, I stopped in at Flint’s Service Center and spoke to Pat Flint, who’s been selling gas to Roanokers for 40-some years.
McDonnell’s plan would save him the $400 he pays upfront in tax on each load of gas and help Flint’s cash flow.
Still, “on the surface I think [the proposal] is absolutely outrageous,” Flint said. “He’s penalizing the people who don’t drive, or who drive a minimum amount, to fund the roads. What about my next-door neighbors who are retired and don’t drive 5,000 miles a year? Why should they have to pay for someone else who drives 50,000 miles a year?”
That’s one potential flaw, but far from the only one, with McDonnell’s abolish-the-gas-tax scheme.
He argues that the gas tax is a declining revenue source. That’s true, but mostly because the General Assembly hasn’t raised it since 1987. To get the same buying power today, it would have to be 35 cents per gallon.
A gas tax increase of that magnitude will happen about the same time that televangelist Pat Robertson converts to Islam. That’s because Richmond is full of craven politicians who are terrified by the term “tax hike.” The phrase sends them scurrying like cockroaches for the dark after the kitchen lights come on.
So the governor had to disguise his proposal for a net increase in tax revenue with the sound-bite friendly slogan, “Abolish the gas tax.” It’s suspiciously reminiscent of former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s popular “ No car tax!” campaign pledge back in 1997.
The problem is, that never came to fruition. Yes, the personal property tax on autos is lower now. But the bill still comes every year. And it has cost local governments dearly for much of the past 14 years.
The latest proposal from McDonnell is a complicated shell game designed to obscure the simple reality that we’ve run out of money for road-building. Politicians used to deal with such questions directly. The governor is using misdirection and sleight of hand, more like a carnival magician.
That was a theme echoed by Ron Haley of Roanoke County, when I talked to him at the Towers Kroger pumps.
McDonnell can’t solve the transportation funding crisis without squeezing more taxes out of Virginians one way or another, he said.
“It’s just going to be torture to get him to admit it, though,” Haley added. “And two to three years from now, roads will be in the same shape and they’ll be saying, ‘We need more revenue.’ ”
Weather JournalWarmth next 2 days hits icy wall