After the Governor's State of the Commonwealth last night I watched a lot of the reaction from both sides. It seems to me like a lot of people are missing a couple of key points on this issue.
#1- This is the last session until 2018 (at the earliest) that we can deal with transportation.
Next year either Ken Cuccinelli or Terry McAuliffe will be Governor. If Terry wins, the House Republicans (currently up 68-32) will shut down any new money for transportation. It's become a myth among Republicans that they "created" Mark Warner's popularity and success by allowing him to oversee a major deal on spending and they spent Tim Kaine's entire term saying they would never allow him the same success. This will also apply to McAuliffe. On the other other hand, McDonnell will sign a much better deal into law than Cuccinelli ever would. This means this is the session to act, or we are looking at waiting until the Governor after Cuccinelli or McAuliffe.
#2- A gas tax increase is not going to solve anything
I explained this before, but here it is again. Fuel efficiency is going to double in cars by 2025. This is not a hope or a dream- it is now a federal requirement. The first phase is required by model year 2016 (2015). When the amount of gas people need for their cars is cut in half- so is the revenue from the gas tax! This doesn't even mention the potential for electric to gain market share. The gas tax has in the past been the most fair way to raise revenue for roads. In 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, etc. I would have said the gas tax was the best way to solve our transportation problems. No more. We need a transportation solution that is tied to revenues that will increase over time, not one that is tied to revenues that will decrease.
#3- No transportation bill should create a funding crisis in other areas of state government
The Governor signaled last night he would sign the bill the General Assembly sent him. The priority for Democrats should be removing the part of the plan that reallocates 0.25% of the existing 5.00% sales tax from the general fund (education, public safety, etc.) to transportation.
The public needs to demand these legislators take this issue seriously. Yesterday I saw this clip of Minority Leader Dick Saslaw. Julie Carey mentioned the increasing fuel standards and he started talking about hybrids. THIS IS NOT THE SAME ISSUE! Hybrids create some of the same problems, but their market share is so small it doesn't really matter in the big picture. However the new federal fuel standards will create these funding issues in *all* new cars by 2025. Not a word from Saslaw about what's happening in the federal government with these new fuel standards. Sadly he even says we could get the revenue the Governor wants from a 5 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax. That's true this year, but by 2025, we will need a 17.5 cent per gallon increase (to 35 cents per gallon) in the gas tax just to be even with today's numbers. For the revenue Saslaw is talking about to still be around in 2015, we would need a 27.5 cent per gallon increase (to 45 cents) in the gas tax. For the gas tax revenue to match what a 0.8 cent sales tax increase would do for transportation- as well as match this other new revenue, the gas tax would have to increase by 71.5 cents per gallon (to 89 cents) by 2025.
The same old talking points just don't work anymore. My biggest disappointment in this debate is the Democrats are ignoring the huge federal policy victory they just got! This problem in revenue source (i.e. gas tax) is being driven by a huge policy success the Dems have been pushing for at the federal level for years. The new fuel standards for cars which President Obama has finally put into place are a game changer in terms of public policy. Because of this, the gas tax increase solution that would have worked 5 or 10 years ago no longer works for the future. Let's get a real 21st century plan together for funding roads and transit for the next 50 years.