TODAY MEMBERS OF Virginia Gov. Baliles' special task force on highways -- the commission charged with making recommendations for billions of dollars in road improvements and construction -- will be trying to settle some of its most important financial questions. The chief question, and certainly the most politically delicate issue due to come before the special session of the General Assembly in September, is how to produce $10 billion to do the job.
Should the state insist on the traditional "pay-as-you-go" tax-and-spend approach, or should it also resort to some form of revenue bonds? We continue to believe that a package incorporating both makes the most sense if the state is to spend roughly $1 billion a year over the next decade. The state happens to be in a sound enough financial position to balance these methods without jeopardizing its budgets or saddling future generations with unacceptable debt.
One revenue-raiser under consideration is an increase of income taxes of individuals and businesses -- perhaps 1 percent. Another logical levy to increase is the gasoline tax; an additional 2 or 3 cents a gallon might be considered, although this might need tempering to avoid losing sales in areas bordering states with lower gas taxes. There could be increases, too, in some of the fees associated with automobile and truck traffic -- from tires to tolls.
One tax that commission members may wish to leave alone is the sales tax. Not only is the deductibility of sales tax in question under proposed federal tax changes. In Virginia it includes food, and this opens another set of considerations that could split the legislators along regional or urban/rural lines.
Gov. Baliles has said that the recommendations of the commission will be the focal point of the deliberations this fall. If they are to carry this weight, there should be enough flexibility in the options to allow the negotiating of a combination of financing and projects that will give every region of Virginia a stake in approving the whole program. Roads are neither built nor fixed in short order. The state cannot afford to come up short on a full financial plan this fall.