Gov. McDonnell Suffering from Legacy Fever
By: Michael R. Shannon
Judging from Gov. Bob McDonnell preoccupation with liquids one would almost think he’s a naval man, rather than an Army reservist. First he tried to free demon rum from state control by privatizing Virginia’s liquor stores.
ABC privatization was DOA even with a Republican House of Delegates for reasons outlined here. Now Gov Bob is intent on reinforcing failure with his latest proposal to free gasoline from Virginia’s fuel tax.
Doesn’t the governor realize that as far as legacies go drinking and driving don’t mix?
Initiatives like these are the result of a severe case of legacy fever — a condition characterized by a politician’s feverish attempt to pass a law voters will remember after their term ends. Symptoms include policy delirium, proposal vomiting and head–count headaches.
Legacy fever doesn’t confine its damage to the infected politician. Visible scars include Obamacare, No Child Left Behind and The Great Society.
This is the last session of the legislature for McDonnell. And unless he wants to be smeared as “Gov. Ultrasound” for all time, he must convince the House and Senate to pass a major legislative proposal.
McDonnell wants his legacy to be a major transportation package that will inject $3.2 billion into Virginia’s transportation fund and give the Commonwealth enough money to both build and repair roads — a twofer that’s been missing in recent years.
The governor’s proposal eliminates the tax on gasoline, increases vehicle registration fees by $15, raises the sales tax by 0.8 percent, increases the portion of sales tax revenue dedicated to transportation by 50 percent and slaps a $100 fee on pretentious alternative fuel vehicles that burn French fry oil mixed with taxpayer subsidies.
In addition, Gov Bob is hoping for some kindness from strangers in DC. Part of the money comes from a tax he hopes Congress will authorize on internet sales, meaning those lazy shop–at–homers (who by the way aren’t cluttering up the roads) will be paying sales tax AND shipping on their purchases.
Unless additional money is found the fund for new construction will be completely empty by 2017 as every last penny goes to maintenance on roads already built.
Fortunately there is a simple solution to this problem. First index the state’s gas tax to inflation, since it has not been increased in 27 years. Then the increase from the gas tax should be offset by a decrease in the income tax making the result revenue neutral.
This also has the advantage of being the responsible conservative solution since people who buy gas tend to burn it on highways, in effect making it a user tax paid by those using the roads.
Unfortunately, we have a legislature dominated by irresponsible conservatives that refuse to raise any tax, regardless of need or justification. Grover Norquist speaks for them when he issued a fatwa against raising the gas tax ruling that voting in favor of indexing violates the No Tax Pledge.
Instead, Norquist says plenty of money for roads can be found by cutting spending in other areas of the budget. This is the policy equivalent of saying, “God bless you” after a sneeze. It does nothing to prevent the spread of germs but gives the speaker a benevolent glow without spending any time in theology school.
If it were possible to cut spending elsewhere to fund roads, it would have been done before now. The potholes you dodge and the gridlock you endure proves this is easier said than done.
McDonnell is obviously appreciates the value of a revenue neutral bill, but removing the tax from gasoline is a ham–handed attempt and profoundly unconservative. It means out of state drivers — which constitute 30 percent of the traffic on Virginia roads — pay nothing for the use of Virginia roads. In effect Virginia taxpayers will be subsidizing the beach traffic jamming our highways on summer weekends.
Transportation is a core government function, and if Gov Bob was certain Republicans would be in charge of government from now on, funding roads from the general fund might be marginally acceptable. But there is no guarantee Virginia voters won’t lose their mind and put Democrats back in charge.
Once you mingle transportation money with the rest of the general fund, it means that money is no longer earmarked for roads. Democrats have no problem raiding the transportation trust fund to spend on their social justice priorities, and they have done it in the past. Tinkering with the percentage of the sales tax that goes to roads will be child’s play for them.
On the other hand, when Republicans want to reverse the process and use general fund money on roads, the likes of Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D–Spending) will accuse you of wanting to boil school children in asphalt.
My suggestion is the GOP leadership put a cold compress on the governor’s forehead and urge him to lie down in a darkened caucus room. Meanwhile, they can put all their efforts behind a transportation solution like mine that has the twin virtues of being both simple and conservative.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.