Delegate’s proposals deserve some closer scrutiny, especially in the midst of recession
elegate John Doyle’s Town Hall meeting as reported in the Chronicle. The audience listened as Doyle discussed the $120 million budget shortfall our state needs to prepare for in July of 2010. In the midst of our current constricted financial climate, Delegate Doyle announced his intention to break into two separate departments the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. With important programs at risk and budgets being slashed, I cannot think of a more expensive or less prudent suggestion for how to spend our tax dollars right now.
And, since we’re talking of tight financial times, while families struggle to make ends meet, Delegate Doyle announced his intention to seek a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase. Here is the Doyle plan for funding road repairs as explained in the meeting. The Delegate has “estimated” that each of us currently pays $400 a year for vehicle repairs which result from poorly maintained roads. By his calculation, the 5-cent increase will “fix all these potholes” and now only cost us each $200 per year in auto repairs. Now that sounds a bit like the wife who explains her expensive dress purchase by stating that it was on sale for 30 percent off.
A closer look shows that the devil is always in the details. The January, 2010 Petroleum Marketing Monthly report lists the fuel taxes each state levies in addition to federal gasoline taxes. What Doyle failed to mention is how we fare relative to the rest of the country. Georgia citizens pony up only 7.5 cents per gallon in taxes, while Washington state rakes in a stunning 37.5 cents per gallon. West Virginia stands near the top of the “most expensive” list by currently charging 32.2 cents per gallon. Doyle’s suggested additional nickel would position us in stiff competition for that “most expensive” spot on the list. With almost half of the Jefferson County workforce commuting long distances to work, our residents would pay for a large chunk of those statewide road repairs. It seems unreasonable to add this additional tax onto the already heavy burden of hard-working families.
Currently, most of our state highway construction and maintenance funding comes from the fuel tax. But as people drive less, as vehicle fuel efficiency increases, gasoline sales decline. So too does our ability to build and maintain our highways. By all estimates, these taxes are unlikely to keep pace with road construction or maintenance costs. So shouldn’t we search for an alternative source of funding rather than increasing that which doesn’t work?
In the interest of full disclosure I should state I am John’s opponent in the upcoming May primary election. However, I for one hope that this is a piece of Doyle legislation that goes nowhere fast.