In A Tale of two states with a common concern, Gov. John Dalton and Gov. Harry Hughes are talking to their respective legislatures about increases in gasoline taxes. Intial reactions in Richmond and Anapolis have been profiles in cowardice -- legislators scared to support sensible and necessary tax proposals. Not only does each state need some tax increase to finance transportation projects, but gasoline is the logical source to tap. The present 9-cents-a-gallon tax rate in each state is not keyed to increases in gasoline prices; and with less consumption, the revenues at these rates are expected to fall.
In Virginia, Gov. Dalton's proposal of a percentage tax on the wholesale price of gasoline never even got off the drawing boards. With excuses ranging from petty to large-economy-size, Republicans and Democrats all over the political spectrum deserted that idea, and now the governor is pressing instead for a 4-cents-a-gallon increase.It, too, is encountering opposition, much of which is misleading: the proposal is being incorrectly portrayed by some legislators as a foreign-aid bill for Northern Virginia.
Actually, most of the additional money sought by Gov. Dalton would be spent on construction and improvement of major roads other than interstate highways. The Tidewater area would get the largest increase, with other significant amounts sprad around the counties. Still other money would go for secondary roads -- the "farm-to-market" routes.
And there's Metro, which some of the legislators still talk about as if it weren't a part of the state's transportation system. To hear it from Del. George W. Jones of Chesterfield, ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee, "The state didn't go on this Metro toboggan ride -- Northern Virginia did." Wrong. Virginia authorized and joined in the subway compact, and for good reason: the Metro bus and subway network happens to be a vital part of the state's transportation. It might interest the lawmakers in Richmond to know that every day, one out of every 75 people in the state uses a Metro bus or subway -- and the number is growing. Obviously this use of transit also eases strains on Virginia's roads; for example, about 40 percent of the people crossing the Potomac during the morning rush hour are carried by bus or subway.
In Maryland, Gov. Hughes is still studying tax options, including using part of the sales tax to finance Metro or reducing the sales tax and tying this move to an increase in the gasoline tax a year from now. The best answer is some combination that includes the gasoline tax, which should be increased to keep pace with price increases and for engery-related reasons.