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Up the percentage, but no new taxes

January 6, 2013 12:10 am



TRANSPORTATION continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, had significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues.

In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like Interstate 95. The following year an additional $568 million was directed to transportation. During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed the largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $3 billion in transportation bonds. In 2008 we restored $180 million in transportation funding that former Gov. Tim Kaine had diverted to other programs.

Soon after coming into office in 2010, Gov. McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $1.4 billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were redirected to long-overdue transportation projects. Another positive development came when Gov. McDonnell announced $1.1 billion in construction and maintenance projects for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2011.

In 2011, the governor unveiled an ambitious $4 billion transportation initiative as part of his budget and legislative package. With interest rates and construction costs at record lows, this was a good opportunity to get roads built in Virginia.

While we rarely get credit for it, the General Assembly and the current administration have made significant efforts to address our transportation problems. What is frustrating is that it seems that no matter what we do, traffic problems persist and even worsen. Part of the problem is that as cars get better gas mileage and with the increasing use of hybrids and electric cars, the gas tax generates less money per mile driven each year.

Every session we see new legislation to try to address the issue including raising the gas tax to new taxes and fees. The 2013 session will be no different. Already we have heard proposals to increase fees on hybrids and alternative-fuel cars, replace the gas tax with a sales tax, and to increase the portion of the current sales tax dedicated to transportation.

There is never a good time to raise taxes, and given the weak state of the economy, now would be the worst time to raise taxes. Taxpayers and businesses are about to be hit with significantly higher taxes from Washington, including a new taxes, fees, and regulations associated with President Obama's health care reform, which alone will be enough to push our stagnant economy into recession. Doubling up on that by raising taxes at the state level would just make a bad situation worse.

Just like every business and family, government needs to live within its means and set spending priorities. Given our significant traffic problems, transportation must be at the top of the General Assembly's priority list. I have proposed increasing the percentage of the current sales tax dedicated to transportation. To be clear, this is not a proposal to raise the sales tax, but simply to increase the portion of the current sales tax dedicated to transportation.

Currently, a half percent of the current sales tax goes to transportation. I have proposed increasing that allocation to a full percent over a period of five years. Legislation includes provisions to delay the transfer if it would result in a decrease of money available to the General Fund.

This would provide nearly $700 million in additional transportation funding without raising taxes. This amount would grow with the economy and inflation, something the current gas tax fails to do.

While setting spending priorities and reallocating resources is difficult, it is something that we must do to ensure that core functions of government, like transportation, are addressed.

Del. Mark Cole, R-88th, represents parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Fauquier counties and of the city of Fredericksburg in the Virginia House of Delegates.

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