Obenshain – No Transportation Tax Hike
Later today, the Virginia Senate is likely to take up one of the most anticipated bills of the 2013 session, the much-discussed transportation plan. I intend to vote against it, and wanted to tell you why.
Transportation is a vitally important issue. Building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is a core governmental function, and there’s a clear need for devoting additional resources to transportation. Traffic congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads is unacceptable, we’re not meeting our maintenance standards, and important improvement projects are on the cutting block. The problem is real. Unfortunately, the compromise plan coming before the Senate later today is not the solution.
Earlier this session, I supported the adoption of Senator Steve Newman’s substitute to the transportation bill. That Newman plan wasn’t perfect, but its adoption would have changed the parameters of the debate and helped shift negotiations in a more conservative direction, giving conservatives in the Senate a better opportunity to shape the bill in conference. But we fell two votes short—and now here we are.
Instead of negotiating from the Newman plan, the Senate is now considering a plan that relies a complex set of tax hikes—sales tax increase, higher car titling taxes, and maybe even real estate transfer and hotel taxes in some areas.
Virginians understand that we need to pay for roads, but they expect some assurances. They want to know that we’re being prudent with the money we already have, which is one reason why I pushed so hard for the VDOT audit that ultimately revealed $1.4 billion in waste, forgotten funds, and unclaimed federal matches.
Taxpayers also expect—and quite reasonably so—that behind any transportation funding scheme lies a well-developed, cost-effective plan for congestion mitigation, and that we’re not unduly burdening taxpayers or driving jobs out of the Commonwealth.
I want to support a transportation deal, but I can’t back this one. The transportation compromise before the General Assembly is the worst kind of compromise: it is a massive tax increase that doesn’t address some of our fundamental problems. There’s also a serious question of fairness, since the plan includes regional tax authorities that will levy significantly higher taxes on those in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
The deal before us today does not fairly address the serious transportation issues faced by the Commonwealth, nor does it properly prioritize transportation within existing revenues. The failure to devote a more significant portion of revenue surpluses to transportation is particularly telling: if Virginia can’t even put its unanticipated windfalls into transportation, is it really fair to say we’re treating transportation as the priority it ought to be?
While I commend my colleagues for their hard work in trying to come up with a transportation funding solution, I submit that we need to go back to the drawing board. Virginians deserve a plan that makes transportation, not tax hikes, the priority—one that devotes a greater portion of existing sales tax revenues to transportation, one that prioritizes transportation in surplus allocations, and one that “locks up” the Transportation Trust Fund against raids.
Whatever happens today, transportation will continue to be a pressing issue, one that’s not going away. Today, the General Assembly votes on a tax hike. A lasting solution on transportation still lies somewhere in the future.