- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore is under great pressure to delay the promised phase-out by 2002 of the personal property tax on motor vehicles known less formally as the "car tax."
Mr. Gilmore based his successful gubernatorial run on a promise to remove this onerous levy from the backs of Virginia taxpayers and so far he has delivered. The tax has already been cut in half, is expected to be further curtailed by 70 percent in 2001, and eliminated entirely by 2002. But a shortfall in tax revenues from other sources and a slight decline in economic growth have given critics all the ammunition they need to renew their drive to save this extremely unpopular and highly regressive tax.
Mr. Gilmore's critics say the car tax phase-out will cost the state $1 billion annually, based on projected revenue shortfalls. But has it ever occurred to these critics that it is better for the state to suffer a "shortfall" of "revenue" than for the individuals and families who earned the money in the first place to be deprived of it? The usual arguments about "needed services" and "our children's education" are sure to be trotted out as counter-arguments. But if these services are so needed, then why have Virginia taxpayers so resoundingly expressed their preference to have the money in their pockets?
It's important to point out that Virginia's general fund swelled by 10.6 percent last year, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Richmond is not starving for resources; it just has an endlessly rapacious appetite for taxpayer dollars. A diet seems more in order than another seven-course meal.
As to the issue of funding for roads and transportation infrastructure, the proper solution here is not more taxes but more free-market medicine. That we need more roads is unquestionably true. The issue is how they should be paid for or more precisely, by whom. Perhaps consideration should be given to mechanisms that impose some cost discipline on what have heretofore been taken as "free" facilities that appear almost magically and don't cost a dime. Of course, we all do, in fact, pay for every mile of road we use it's just that under the current way of doing things, these costs are hidden from us. Why not make these costs more transparent? Why not consider congestion pricing or toll roads and HOT lanes, that allow those who need the roads most and who use them at peak times to fund at least part of the cost of building and maintaining them?

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