- Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 05:00
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This is a proposal that won’t go very far. I know that. I have been involved in politics, either directly or as an observer for more years than I care to remember. I understand the political environment and for the most part have a feel for what ideas and proposals might make it and which won’t. In the current political climate in Richmond I know this is one of those ideas that will never see the light of day. But maybe it should.
There are two problems facing Virginia right now and they’re big ones. The first is unemployment.
While Virginia has been spared the large scale unemployment faced in many areas of the country, we’re still not unaffected. Almost every community has seen its unemployment levels rise, or at the least, through reductions in hours, or loss of commissions, seen income levels drop. Those who aren’t unemployed, and this is certainly a normal reaction in times like these, are worried that they might be. Retired people are worried about their neighbors and their children. Governor McDonnell has been aggressive in trying to make himself a real “jobs” chief executive. He is off to a good start and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
The second major problem is transportation.
The transportation infrastructure of Virginia is facing two concerns. One, the demand for roads, as well as mass transit, is increasing dramatically while capacity, the ability to handle that additional demand, is remaining stable. That’s not good. Second, our roads, bridges and interchanges are all aging and decaying. The number of bridges requiring special attention, simply due to age, gets larger each year. And so do the problems with uneven pavement and pot holes. Of course, the guys who handle front-end alignments probably don’t mind, but the rest of us do.
That’s why, a long debated and much maligned proposal might be at least a partial answer to both concerns. Several years ago, our former Senator John Chichester proposed a one-cent a gallon tax on gasoline to provide funds for investments in roads. The funds would go to a special capital investment account. It was a simple idea. The tax burden would be almost nil, most people wouldn’t notice that penny a gallon tax, and it would pump (forgive the pun) money into needed infrastructure.
It would also generate jobs. There are few industries that produce as many ready jobs as highway construction. You name the specialty and it’s a needed skill when it comes to road building. Engineers, designers, bulldozer operators, graders, welders and laborers, to name a few, are critical in building a highway or for that matter any major transportation project. And, best of all, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has a number of unfunded projects, designed, permitted and on the shelf ready to go.
The second benefit would be our transportation network. Roads are more than just about getting us to the store, to work or the beach. They are the heart of our economy in Virginia. Businesses, in looking for places to locate, usually place roads at the top of their lists. Goods need to move and people need to get to work. Virginia has seen its economy grow because it had bragging rights when it came to its quality road system. Now, unfortunately, that boast is getting harder to make. That’s too bad because, now, more than ever, we need to do all we can to spur economic growth.
The idea, as logical as it sounded, never made it into law. The House of Delegates saw it as just another tax and wanted nothing to do with it. Personally, in retrospect that seems like a narrow interpretation, but that view still prevails in Richmond. They prefer instead to see transportation projects funded primarily through the general fund. And that’s the way we do things now.
It’s interesting to note that nearly 30 years ago President Ronald Reagan, facing both high jobless numbers and major concerns about America’s crumbling infrastructure, instituted a nationwide five-cent a gallon gas tax. It didn’t end the recession, but the roads did get better and a lot of Americans went back to work. I think there is lesson in that.
Like I said, it’s an idea that’s not likely to go anywhere. Some in the GOP would see this, probably rightly, as just another warmed-over notion that they hoped had seen its last day when John Chichester retired. Perhaps, but with people looking for work, and an aging and decaying transportation network cramping our future economic growth, maybe it’s an idea that deserves another look.
You may reach David Kerr at