This idea must cross state lines

Va. plan to end state gas tax in favor of .8% sales tax should be adopted by others--especially Maryland

Blog Entry January 15, 2013

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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Maryland probably would not mind if its neighbor put up a fence. OK, make that a steel security gate.


Shortly after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced his proposal to wipe out the state gas tax and replace it with a .8% sales tax and other fees, the state next door became worried that motorists would make the trek across the border for cheaper gasoline. This may just force the hand on the Maryland side. For a while now, officials have been debating over what to do to combat the funding shortfall due to deteriorating gas receipts and the decline in federal money tagged for infrastructure improvements. Maryland has some of the most congested corridors in the country, and there is only enough money to carry out basic maintenance on roads and bridges. However, there were a few officials that still were not convinced that McDonnell's plan was the way to go.


"It would not raise a lot of money and it would be a very regressive tax," said Maryland Senate President Thomas Mike Miller.


I think McDonnell's solution is pure genius, and it should raise a lot of cash and endless possibilities. For FY 2013, Virginia is expected to transfer $364 million from its general fund just to pay for road repairs, and the .8% sales tax increase would generate $844 million in new money per year by FY 2018. In addition, it would get some travelers that are simply passing through the state of Virginia to help pay for the temporary load they are putting on the road network. It also would force those green enthusiasts who now use their outlet as a gas pump to pay their share.


Yet there is hesitation on the Maryland side to follow this line of common sense. The fact that some politicians are already stomping their foot on this new ball of energy is very disturbing. Let's face it, the list of better options stops after the number 1. A state could wait around and pray the federal government will come through with an increase in road or bridge funding. Or it could wait around longer and pray even harder for some sort mileage-based fee system. Then there is always the "let's-borrow-until-we-drop-dead-in-debt" approach.


Virginia needs to make the McDonnell plan official, and Maryland needs to do what every good neighbor does, which is copy and enhance it. Then maybe Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and West Virginia will catch on to the trend, and before you know it the whole country will be doing it. Great ideas sometime suffer from a bureaucratic beat down, the kind that leaves them in a coma for years. Let's hope Virginia lawmakers do not put up a fight.

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