Reviews | Glenn Youngkin attacks Virginia transportation funding for political victory

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With many states awash in federal pandemic stimulus funds, the temptation for short-term political gain is too strong for many lawmakers to resist. Hence the wave of tax breaks, many of which confer the greatest benefits on people whose wallets have grown in size over the past couple of years.

Among the most pernicious measures are tax cuts that increase transport revenues. They are usually justified by governors and legislators who cite short-term budget surpluses, while failing to mention that the construction and maintenance of highways, bridges, railroads and subways are long-term proposals. .

A case in point is Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who campaigned on a platform that included numerous tax cuts, including ones that would drain money for state and local transportation projects. In the Commonwealth, which has spent decades trying to climb out of a funding hole of its own making, these cuts have a particular resonance.

For more than a quarter century, from 1986 to 2013, Virginia’s roads and rails buckled amid rapid urban and suburban growth for which frozen revenue streams were increasingly, then severely, inadequate. No state except Alaska has gone further without raising its gas tax, as inflation and more fuel-efficient vehicles have more than halved the tax’s purchasing power per gallon. of State. Predictably, the results were disastrous: a quarter of Virginia’s bridges were considered obsolete; more than a fifth of road surfaces failed to meet federal standards. Maintenance and repairs mopped up dollars so quickly that if lawmakers hadn’t acted, no money would have been left for new construction or even to unlock federal matching grants.

It was ultimately a Republican Governor, Robert F. McDonnell, who in 2013 signed into law a tax hike that bowed to the reality that Virginians weren’t paying for the roads, rails and bridges that they used. Since then, things have improved, in part thanks to new legislation to ensure smooth sources of transport funding.

Mr. Youngkin spent those years as a private equity executive. It would be wise to review the story. By now proposing to drastically cut transportation funding, he would put a massive brake on the progress the state has made. Specifically, the governor and his GOP allies would scrap a 1% food tax levied by localities that produces $135 million a year for road repairs and maintenance. The state Senate rejected a separate proposal to suspend the state gasoline tax of about 27 cents a gallon for three months, which would cut revenue by more than $400 million. Mr. Youngkin still hopes to revive it.

Youngkin defends the tax cut, which contributed to a legislative stalemate in enacting a new state budget, citing soaring gasoline prices and a transportation fund surplus of more than d billion over the next two years. But the surpluses follow their course; transport needs are permanent. Gas savings for most motorists, a few dollars a week, are modest.

Mr. Youngkin is not an isolated case. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), using similar arguments, imposed a month-long gas tax exemption, with bipartisan support, undermining transportation revenue by $94 million – which would be supposed be covered by the budget surplus fed by the relief funds.

Popular gestures, of course. But at what cost ?

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