Virginia lawmakers pushing new gas tax hike, would cost typical family $200 more each year
And that could be just the beginning.
The Virginia General Assembly is reportedly settling on a 10 cent per gallon gas tax increase. Once it’s phased in over two years, it would cost the average family an extra $200 per year.
And that may be just the start.
Passenger vehicles drive a combined 80 billion miles across nearly 58,000 miles of Virginia roads every year. And the state’s transportation policy has historically focused on maintaining that road infrastructure. But the ground might be shifting under Virginia’s drivers – along with the taxes they pay.
Gov. Ralph Northam and his allies in the General Assembly entered the legislative session pushing to raise the gas tax; the only question was by how much. Competing proposals of 8 and 12 cents per gallon, the latter to be phased in over three years, yielded a “compromise” of a 10 cent per gallon increase implemented over two years, ultimately bringing the gas tax from 22 to 32 cents per gallon, an increase of nearly 50%.
Assuming average mileage and fuel economy, this gas tax hike would cost a family with two teenage drivers over $200 a year more, a couple with one teenage driver approximately $170 a year in additional taxes, and yield about $60 a year in higher gas taxes on a typical adult motorist. The following average tax hikes for different family profiles are based on figures from the Federal Highway Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics:
- Married couple (ages 35-54) and two teenage drivers: $205.52
- Married couple (ages 35-54) and one teenage driver: $169.78
- Young married couple (20-34), no child drivers: $169.78
- Adult male driver (20-34): $80.61
- Adult male driver (35-54): $84.57
- Adult female driver (20-34): $53.83
- Adult female driver (35-54): $51.41
- Average male driver (all ages): $74.21
- Average female driver (all ages): $45.48
Update (3/6/20): The proposal would also expand an existing regional gas tax to the rest of the state. Currently, there is a 7.6 cent per gallon regional surcharge in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the I-81 corridor. Under the new plan, this higher tax would be extended to the rest of the Commonwealth as well, adding up to a combined 17.6 cent per gallon tax increase for many areas.
Once fully phased in over two years, that would cost the average family more than $350 a year in higher taxes.
Families affected by the new surcharge would see the following increases:
- Married couple (ages 35-54) and two teenage drivers: $361.72
- Married couple (35-54) and one teenage driver: $298.81
- Young married couple (20-34), no child drivers: $238.32
- Adult male driver (20-34): $141.87
- Adult male driver (35-54): $148.84
- Adult female driver (20-34): $94.74
- Adult female driver (35-54): $90.48
- Average male driver (all ages): $130.61
- Average female driver (all ages): $80.04
Will higher gas taxes fix roads?
If the additional revenue were earmarked for road spending, some drivers might grin and bear it. No such luck: gas tax increases in Virginia have a history of being siphoned off for other projects, and the connection between motor fuel taxes and road funding exists more on paper than in reality.
There’s no guarantee the additional money will go to roads.
Some gas tax revenue goes to mass transit and policymakers’ pet projects, and in an economic downturn, lawmakers might even sweep the money into the general fund. Meanwhile, in addition to the Commonwealth’s share of federal transportation dollars, some road funding is drawn from the sales tax.
It’s possible to imagine a plan that raises the gas tax while cutting the sales tax, shifting more of the burden of road funding to those using the roads. That’s not what Northam’s plan proposes. There’s no offset anywhere else in the tax code.
In short, the gas tax hike proposal is a revenue grab. And the motivation may be hidden in plain sight: to discourage driving.
Under Northam, Virginia has joined both the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, and the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, pledging to cap carbon emissions from both power plants (the RGGI) and transportation (the TCI). The TCI contemplates requiring fuel wholesalers to buy credits for the gasoline they sell, driving up the cost of gas in the state. Perhaps as an opening bid, the Northam administration would like a gas tax increase. It operates as a twofer, raising revenue by increasing the cost of driving.
When designed as a user fee, gas taxes are intended to pay for roads. Designed as a “sin tax,” a gas tax increase becomes about getting people off the roads. Instead of easing congestion in Northern Virginia or along the I-81 corridor, abiding by TCI priorities would mean diverting funding to mass transit, bike paths, electric vehicle charging stations and other wish list items that don’t benefit Virginians for whom driving is a necessity.
It’s one thing to ask people to pay for the roads they use; it’s another to ask them to pay for the infrastructure they don’t use, or to be penalized for driving a car, particularly in a state as large and diverse as Virginia.
Virginia is the only southern state to join the TCI. And if Northam gets his way, Virginia drivers will be paying more at the pump even before the TCI’s more aggressive policies are implemented, without any assurances that the money will go toward the improvement of the roads they use.
That the gas tax is on the verge of going up by 50% is troubling enough. What should really worry Virginians is the prospect that it’s just a down-payment on even more burdensome policies down the road.