Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has reverted to type with a raft of tax increases and fees: a proposed increase in the statewide motor-vehicles sales tax to 4 percent, a lift of retail taxes in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas by 1 percent, another $10 a car on the statewide automobile registration fee and, incredibly, amid a housing bust, a new levy on real estate sales. Per Mr. Kaine, only $1.1 billion in new annual taxes can solve Virginia’s transportation woes. He is wrong. Yet again, Virginia’s political leaders have missed the obvious solution.
Rather than raise taxes, the state should reapportion its laughable transportation funding allocation away from politically influential but underpopulated parts of the state. That is, instead of grabbing more taxpayer dollars to build a bigger total pie, it should simply serve Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads the slices each has already earned.
This year, the commonwealth’s total transportation outlays neared $4.8 billion. But the state is on track to invest only $600 million in congestion relief for Northern Virginia and just over $250 million in Hampton Roads. Mr. Kaine would raise those, respectively, to $1.1 billion and just under $500 million. This would be laudable if the governor would do so by correcting overinvestment in less-populated areas of the state. Alas, he does not.
Only part of the state’s transportation dollars are apportioned by population density. In a state as traffic-clogged as Virginia, density is the proper yardstick. Together, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia comprise nearly 60 percent of the state’s population. But density is just one of the formulas for only certain types of spending by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Luckily for taxpayers, the Kaine tax increases announced last week are meeting resistance in Richmond — with Republican Delegate Dave Albo predicting a “0.000” chance of passage. Even a large segment of the Democratic majority in Richmond is balking.
To be sure, the smart route to fixing Virginia’s transportation spending imbalance is politically difficult. But then, one would think that, at a moment of severe gas-and-food price distress, Mr. Kaine’s resort to a raft of new taxes and fees pose their own political perils, too. Be thankful for that, at least.