Editorial: What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine this: There is no state sales tax on junk food. But consumption of foods with minimal sugar and fat content is taxed at five cents on the dollar. The money raised by such a tax is used to cover the additional health-care costs associated with the nation’s obesity epidemic.

In addition, imagine that people who eat organic, locally produced foods have to pay a $100 annual special consumption tax, the proceeds of which become rebates to farmers who buy pesticides and herbicides.

That imaginary scenario offers a metaphorical snapshot into the strange – but, alas, very real – transportation bill recently passed in the name of “we the people” by our enlightened representatives at the General Assembly in Richmond.

The bill eliminates the 17.5-cent per gallon tax on motor fuels and replaces it with a percentage-based tax of 3.5 percent for gasoline at the wholesale level. The effective halving of the gas tax, of course, only encourages more use of fossil fuels — not to mention traffic congestion. Moreover, diesel, which usually gets better mileage, will be taxed at a rate almost double that of gasoline.

And for those of us trying to save money at the pump (as well as help the environment) by owning a fuel-efficient vehicle, we actually get penalized! The bill imposes a $100 annual registration fee on hybrid vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles and electric motor vehicles.

Finally, for those of us who walk or bike whenever we can, we get to subsidize road improvements for our auto-happy fellow citizens – through a statewide sales and use tax increase from the current 4 percent to 4.3 percent.

No one likes to pay taxes, of course. But when we do, the expectation is that those who represent us craft tax policies that incentivize behavior for the common good. Unless I’m missing something, this new transportation policy does just the opposite.

Walter Nicklin


  1. One point missed in all this, is that the gas tax is designed to pay for roadways. Hybrid vehicles still use the roadways as much as standard vehicles. They pay a reduced amount of gas tax, but pay disproportionately less per mile driven to maintain the roads. The registration fee levels that playing field. I am against the bill by the way.

  2. Incorparation of Bicycle and Pedestrian facilities are considered in most roadway improvement projects these days, especially near urbanized areas. Counties and Towns use funds from transporation funding for bike and pedestrian improvements as well. I am not a fan of all the aspects of the new transportation funding bill, however to imply bicyclists and pedestrians will now have to subsidize improvements for vehicles is misleading. Bicyclists and pedestrians are now paying “their fair share” for shared-use paths, dedicated bike lanes and sidewalks. I agree the fuel tax on diesel passneger vehicles is excessive, but unfortunately the vehicles which cause the most damage and wear on our highways are large trucks which are also diesel powered. I would support a reduced tax rate for diesel fueled passenger vehicles and light trucks, but unsure how to accomplish it.

  3. First, the only time diesel gets better mileage than gasoline is when it’s used in small cars, which it rarely is. The diesel tax is targeted toward the large trucks that beat the roads up more than small, gasoline powered vehicles, so should pay more. Even diesel pick-up trucks don’t generally get better mileage than their gasoline powered counterparts.

    Second, a mere 8 cents a gallon is not going to cause a massive spike in miles driven in Virginia. Period.

    Third, anyone who buys a hybrid to save money on gas needs to go back to school and learn how to do math again, since it will take years for the gas savings to pay for the difference in purchase price, and by then you’ll have to drop 10 grand on a new set of batteries, putting you right back in the hole again.

    Which brings me to point four. Hybrids don’t help the environment as much as you think they do. What do you think happens to the old batteries that are full of heavy metals and require large amounts of energy produced by coal-fired plants to recycle?

    Fifth, you don’t like an increase in sales tax? Niether do I, but I don’t have a better idea. Do you? How about instead of complaining about the problem, you propose a solution?

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