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NO ONE can rightfully accuse Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of being tax-happy. So when he says we ought to look at changing the gas tax, it's time to listen.
"We have a math problem," Mr. McDonnell said, responding to a reporter's question on Nov. 19. "We've got dramatically less gas tax revenue coming in than we did five, 10, or 15 years ago. And the cost of asphalt is up 300 percent. I'm going to be fairly adamant with the General Assembly this year, that we've got to stop kicking the can down the road. We have to have a transportation funding plan or we're going to look back in five or six years and have virtually no money left for construction."
The state gas tax, a flat 17.5 cents per gallon, has not changed in nearly three decades, thanks to the obstinacy of (mostly) Republicans in the General Assembly. Their professed concern has been that a rise in the gas tax would swamp the working poor and country-dwellers with long distances to travel.
But the result has been a failure of the state to fund transportation. According to Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Commission, Virginia will run out of money for state roads in 2017.
That's not so far away. The governor's openness to reconsidering the gas tax recognizes reality: The Old Dominion's road system is inadequate, which is a hindrance to the its economic health.
Mr. McDonnell suggests making the gas tax a percentage of the price per gallon, allowing revenues to rise with inflation. That's an idea worth considering. The no-new-tax stonewallers in the General Assembly should take note: Virginians are looking for practical answers to problems, not rigid ideology that leaves such problems unsolved.