Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Open Letter: Eliminating the Gasoline Tax for the Commonwealth

McDonnell proposes eliminating Virginia’s gas tax

In a recent Washington Post article, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell called for an elimination of the 17.5¢ per gallon of fuel Gasoline Tax and an increase in the annual registration fees payed by EVs to $100 per year—I personally just paid a little under $400 in registration fees for CO2 Fre Nissan LEAF up through 2015 with a $150 penalty for driving an EV for three more years.  While he also proposes a $15 increase in the annual registration fees for traditional cars, he plans to make up the rest of the Commonwealth Transportation Fund's decreasing income—due to fuel taxes that are not indexed to inflation—through sales taxes.  In effect, what the Governor is asking is for everyone to pay for Virginia's roads but for EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles to pay more on top of a general sales tax.

Part of the issue is Governor McDonnell trying to stay true to his Norquist pledge to never raise taxes and to only derive revenue-neutral income sources.  However, a fee is technically not a tax and certainly not based on income so I do feel even if the Norquist pledge is ludicrous that it can be satisfied by moving to a gross weight and miles driven fee assessed at ones annual safety inspection as a part of road certification.  This would in effect bring the fuel tax back in line with its original goal: keeping the Virginia Transportation Fund solvent by assessing fees most harshly on the heaviest vehicles and the vehicles that drive the most, which are just the vehicles that cost the Commonwealth the most in terms of maintenance, repair and infrastructure.  I thus submitted this opened letter to the Governor's office last night:

Dear Governor McDonnell,

I couldn't agree more with that goal Mr. Governor, but I think you've not provided a logical way to solve the revenue shortfall caused by more hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles on the Commonwealth's roads.  Adding an increase to sales tax may have the potential of being revenue neutral but it doesn't balance the cost of repair with those who do the most damage.

Basically, from a civil engineering point of view, the main cost to Virginia of cars on our roads is the gross weight of the vehicles and the number of miles driven every year.  As such, the best way to charge an infrastructure tax is simply to base it on those two variables.  And enough of this tying it to registration!  Do not charge alternative fuel vehicles a more expensive registration surcharge when gasoline fuel cars would end up paying no taxes!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I can't say that strongly enough because again it's about road damage and that's about number of miles driven and the weight of the car.  It has nothing to do with its means of propulsion!  Don't charge any registration penalty on a vehicle just because it doesn't use gasoline, especially if you're going to forsake any revenue you'd be taxing on that gasoline.  Don't tax the alternative fuel vehicles something if your going to tax the gasoline cars nothing!  That's bad for the commonwealth because the alternative fuel vehicles mean, for instance, with electric cars or methane (natural gas) vehicles, that that energy to drive them could be coming right from here in Virginia, very domestic and local energy and not from refineries in Mississippi for oil from the North Sea and Venezuela or Saudi Arabia.  We need to encourage the money spent on car fuel to stay in Virginia and that's why if anything EVs and CNG vehicle should never pay *more* tax than gasoline vehicles and probably should pay less because they help encourage Virginia businesses and create Virginia jobs!!!

So again, the best approach is to simply apply a scaled fee as a part of a vehicle's annual safety inspection.  At the safety inspection the Commonwealth has all the information it needs to make the correct taxation assessment.  The mileage driven in a year is already logged with the Safety Inspection and the Gross Weight is already defined for any original equipment manufactured vehicle and must be registered for any conversion or custom vehicle.  Even trucks could be taxed this way based their weight!

Please, Mr. Governor, this is how you can balance the Commonwealth's transportation needs.  It means the heaver cars, like EV and SUVs, will indeed pay more, but the Prius will pay its fair share too because it's about weight, not how fuel efficient you are because the roads don't care about fuel efficiency.  They just care about Weight and Miles.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

Jeffrey C. Jacobs