Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

It’s halftime for the 2013 legislative session, and if you have been following any of the news coming out of Richmond it is obvious we did not get off to a smooth start. The Senate Republicans have gone out of their way to make extreme partisanship and excessive overreach their foundation for this year. They have doubled down on their ideological pursuits in a way that is putting us on the fast track to becoming the first state where it will be easier to buy a gun than it is to vote on Election Day.

We are now in the process of taking up the important issue of transportation. More specifically, Governor McDonnell’s proposed transportation plan is working its way through the General Assembly and it is important that we have a thorough, rational and honest debate about the transportation challenges facing our Commonwealth. As I hear from people on the Governor’s plan, it is obvious Virginians have hit their tolerance wall for the choking effect gridlock has on our economy and our quality of life. Make no mistake about the need to get this plan correct. It’s been over a quarter of a century (1986) since the General Assembly put a sustainable revenue plan in place. History demonstrates this is not a “let’s get something and we’ll work it out later” issue that will be revisited in the near future.

The main pillar of the Governor’s transportation plan is to eliminate the gas tax and replace it by increasing the sales tax. For me, this is a non-starter as the gas tax ensures that those who use the roads pay for them. Eliminating it would be a big mistake. Offsetting the gas tax with a spike in the sales tax shifts the burden of paying for transportation infrastructure primarily to Virginians. Furthermore, this move would be a tax cut for out-of state-drivers, who are responsible for 30% of the miles traveled on our roadways. I am not going to vote to give a free ride to Marylanders and North Carolinians using our roads.

Additionally the Governor’s plan calls for taking $800 million out of the General Fund (which is the sole source of funding education, public safety, and health and human services). I will not be able to vote for any proposal that will raid the General Fund and continue to cut our core services to the bone. We need a dedicated and reliable source of revenue for long-term transportation solutions that address gridlock, mass transit and maintaining existing infrastructure.

Eliminating the gas tax here in Virginia will only mean larger profits for Big Oil and fewer transportation dollars available for the Commonwealth. I have owned and operated gas stations in our area for many years, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that the price at the pump will not drop because the oil companies will not allow a large state-by-state separation in price. It would put Virginia on the map as the only state with no gas tax. This is simple math and it just does not add up.

To make up for the loss of gas tax revenue, Virginians would need to buy a lot of Snickers bars under the new sales tax rate. I sincerely doubt we are going to be able shop our way to an improved transportation system. Here in Northern Virginia we know all too well that we cannot depend on gimmicks or band-aids to fix our gridlock and improve our quality of life.

Nor do I believe we can pave our way out of this traffic jam. Other states and cities have tried it and have failed. Any plan must include mass transit as a priority, so we can get people out of their cars and onto the Metro or VRE. Creating more reliable mass transit options are essential to reducing congestion on our roads.

Please join me, Senator Dave Marsden and Delegate Kaye Kory for a legislative town hall meeting on February 9th at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Falls Church, starting at 10:30AM. I appreciate hearing from so many constituents on the many and varied issues coming before the General Assembly.


Dick Saslaw represents the 35th District and serves as the Democratic Leader in the Senate of Virginia. To contact Sen. Saslaw or for more information please visit www.DickSaslaw.com.