Three state legislators from Northern Virginia couldn’t care less what Grover Norquist thinks about the state’s transportation funding dilemma, while a fourth appears to side with the anti-tax czar.
Norquist, the no-new-tax crusader and founder of Americans for Tax Reform and its Taxpayer Protection Pledge (TPP), weighed in this month on pitches from several state politicians to raise the state’s gas tax. Specifically, Norquist urged legislators not to link the gas tax to inflation, a measure that’s been offered up by state Del. Tom Rust (R-Dist. 86).
Virginia’s gas tax rate of 17.5 cents per gallon hasn’t been altered since 1986.
“By indexing the gas tax to inflation, it would create a new fuel tax regime, which would raise taxes on countless Virginia families and businesses, as well as put future tax increases on autopilot,” Norquist wrote to state legislators last month.
Norquist, whose pledge states that legislators won’t raise marginal tax rates and that they’ll oppose net reduction unless matched by another cut, notes that higher fuel costs will adversely hurt the state’s business environment. Virginia was recently listed as the second best state for doing business by Forbes.
Americans for Tax Reform’s TPP has become “de riguer for GOP candidates running for federal or statewide offices across the country,” according to The Hill newspaper. More than 1,400 current or incoming U.S. congressmen and state legislators have signed the pledge.
In his letter on the state’s gas tax, Norquist continues, “The transportation woes Virginia faces are not because of the gas tax. Richmond has spent too much money; in other words, it’s a spending problem not a revenue problem. If spending had been capped at the rate of inflation and population growth, Virginia would have spent $21.6 billion less between 1999 and 2009, saving more than enough to address Virginia’s transportation needs.”
Del. Randy Minchew (R-Dist. 10), who signed the TPP, disagrees. Minchew doesn’t see indexing the gas tax as a tax hike. Rather, it’s more of a “user’s fee,” he said.
“I feel it should have been indexed in 1986,” Minchew said.
Minchew’s freshman colleague in the House of Delegates, David Ramadan (R-Dist. 87), however, doesn’t believe indexing the tax is the answer. Also a signer of the TPP, Ramadan said the better solution is making transportation funding a higher priority within the state’s general fund. Ramadan echoed the sentiment that the state’s budget woes stem from a spending problem rather than a revenue problem.
“I do believe it’s an increase in taxes,” Ramadan said. “What we need in the state is comprehensive tax reform.”
Both Ramadan and Minchew have expressed optimism in recent interviews that a transportation funding bill at least in modest form will pass the General Assembly this year. The two legislators pointed to 2013 being Gov. Bob McDonnell’s final year in office as one reason for that optimism. McDonnell campaigned on, and has long advocated for, a fix to transportation funding, something that could be hailed as a legacy achievement.
Rust, a veteran in the statehouse, said he’s patroned a transportation bill that includes binding the gas tax with inflation. Rust said his colleagues need to hunker down and come together to solve the “transportation crisis.” Rust said the state needs to find $1 billion in revenue to adequately address its transportation needs.
“It’s a quality of life issue. It’s an economic issue. It affects everyone in this region,” Rust said.
State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Dist. 33) also favors indexing the gas tax. He supported the measure in transportation legislation in the 2012 session, a bill that passed the split Senate 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats but was defeated in the House of Delegates.
“While indexing the gas tax itself is nowhere near sufficient to addressing our transportation funding shortfall, I would support it in the future as part of a larger, comprehensive transportation package,” Herring said.
Virginia’s General Assembly will convene in Richmond for the 2013 session Jan. 9.