GAS TAX REVISITED—OK TO RAISE ABOUT 8 CENTS—BUT WHY NOT GIVE TWO CENTS FOR THE TRANSPORTATION FUTURE NOW?
The blinders remain on regarding the decline of car travel in Vermont and attempts to repair leaking transportation revenue bucket with more gas taxes.
Instead of serving the transportation needs of the State or even talking about those needs, the political leadership acts like the 9,000-plus workers in recent years ditching the car as a way to work, the decline of traffic along key urban roadways dating back more than two decades, and the surge of Link bus commuters nearing 500 daily—all this did not happen or suddenly will reverse magically and we’ll return to the world of Sunday drives and cruising symbolized by the iconic 1950s lifestyle found in the old TV show “Happy Days.”
The central element in shoring up the Transportation Fund for two years comes in the form of a gas tax which amounts to a 7.6 cent increase, according to press reports, which raises $25.8 million each year when fully in place. Each penny in the gas tax raises about $3.3 million. Vermont and New England states consumption of gasoline remained little changed 2000-2010 with three states reporting declines led by Vermont's -8.0%. The year 2011 brought another 2.5% decline in Vermont gas consumption. The State is well on its way to the level of consumption in 1990.
Virginia last month and very likely Massachusetts within the next month or so drop the fantasy of drilling for revenues from a depleted gas tax well by switching to broad base taxes in order to meet the backlog of transportation needs—highway, bridges, public transit, bicycling and walking—and recognize these needs must be fairly shared through broad base sales and income taxes, taxes shared by everyone not just the car travelers.
To give a sense of how little it would take to change, consider commuter rail services from Burlington along the three corridors served by 50 Link commuter buses each workday—Middlebury, Montpelier and St. Albans. Other needs include shoring up and expanding public transit, an intercity rail network, and supporting employer-based commuter choice programing to encourage home to work trips by means other than the solo drive. Commuter rail represents an easy change to visualize. If you gave two cents (gas tax or its equivalent) for commuter rail then two corridors get served with 14 trains a day each serving a dozen downtowns and village centers--for another penny, you get rail service on all three corridors. This gives one a view of the future. No need to carry on the car fantasy transportation of the past—time to give your two cents (or three) for the transportation future now.