The Dec. 3 editorial “Running on fumes” correctly diagnosed the problem with Virginia’s transportation policy: Growing construction costs and better vehicle fuel efficiency have eroded revenue from the state’s gasoline tax while the legislature has stood idly by.
But the editorial mischaracterized the proposal of Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Chesterfield) to fix this problem with a gas tax increase when it said “he would protect poorer Virginians by cutting income taxes on the state’s lowest brackets.” In fact, the poorest Virginians are exactly the group that would be left behind under the income tax cuts Mr. Watkins has proposed.
Only one in four of Virginia’s poorest residents would see any income tax cut under Mr. Watkins’s plan because Virginia wisely exempts many of its working poor from paying state income taxes. But those families do pay sales taxes, property taxes and the gas taxes that Mr. Watkins seeks to increase.
Offsetting the impact of any gas tax increase on Virginia’s poorest families is of great importance, but cutting income tax rates does not accomplish this goal.
Carl Davis, Washington
The writer is a senior analyst at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
The basic problem with Virginia transportation funding lies with the Byrd Road Act of 1932, which relieved all Virginia counties except Arlington and Henrico of responsibility over their roads, transferring control to the then-named Virginia Department of Highways.
Only four other states have such a policy. In the other 45, counties and towns are responsible for funding, construction and maintenance of their own roads. In Virginia, there are more than 48,000 miles of county roads that, if located in one of those 45 states, would be maintained by their respective county or town, relieving the state of a considerable amount of work and expense.
When the act was passed, Virginia was a rural state without a decent highway system. Since then, however, many counties have had large increases in population, mostly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. I am sure the counties that have transportation deficiencies would love to have the authority to manage their secondary roads. Fairfax, for example, would be able to pass its own taxes and bond levies. Moreover, the commonwealth would be able to dedicate its diminishing funds and staff to the state highway system.
All the General Assembly and governor need to do is to repeal the Byrd Road Act. Standing in the way of repeal are rural counties who benefit from the act and have a stranglehold over state highway funding. Representatives from urban and suburban areas need to band together to force the legislature to deal with this problem.
Jeffrey P. Cajka, Alexandria