WITH ALL THE thrills of a month-long cricket match, the Virginia General Assembly's taxes on gas (and vice versa) mercifully sputtered to a happy compromise at the buzzer in Richmond. Though more than a few lawmakers are still fuming over the gas-tax agreements struck in the final flurry of bargaining, the outcome is enormously significant for the state in general and Northern Virginia in financial particular. Two sound taxing measures emerged -- thanks in large part to some deft actions by certain alert legislators, notable among them Del. Warren Stambaugh (D-Arlington), who refused to be accomplices in several attempts at legislative suicide within the Northern Virginia delegation.
Though motorists surely aren't thrilled by the prospect of higher taxes on gas prices, the compromises from Richmond -- a two-cents-a-gallon statewide increase as well as a 2 percent tax on retail sales starting July 1 in Northern Virginia -- are the right prescription for the state's transportation systems. In addition, a provision directing that revenues from the regional tax go directly to Northern Virginia's regional transportation agency -- instead of first sifting through the various local governments -- is an important boost for the efficient financing of Virginia's share in Metro.
The local tax bill barely made it through the House, with the minimum 51 votes required. Perhaps the motivating factor for support was explained by Del. Richard Cranwell of Roanoke, who said of the Metro debate, "I have stood as much of this as I can stand.Let's vote on this thing and get it over with." With a similar sense of relief, Gov. John Dalton, whose statewide gas tax proposal came out only modestly scathed, should resist any appeals for vetoes and approve both measures. These actions, along with scheduled decisions on Metro financing plans in Maryland and the District, would answer once and perhaps even for all the serious demand that the three jurisdictions earmark "stable and reliable" tax sources for underwriting the region's transportation system.