Sen. Minority Leader Richard Saslaw has spearheaded the opposition this winter to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to raise transportation revenues by abolishing the state gas tax and replacing it with a sales tax increase.
Saslaw, D-Fairfax, says the only way to raise ample money for roads is to increase both the sales and the gas tax. He introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have raised Virginia’s 5 percent sales tax to 6 percent. It also would have increased the state’s 17.5-cent a gallon gas excise tax by 5 cents a gallon during each of the next two years and set the levy to automatically rise at the inflation rate of construction costs.
McDonnell says that the gas tax is outdated and will produce declining revenues in the future as cars become more fuel efficient. Saslaw says the problems with Virginia’s flat gas tax are that it’s not indexed to inflation and has not been increased since 1987. That’s a far cry from other states, he claims.
"There’s a reason the other 49 states keep raising their gas tax," Saslaw during a Jan. 15 news conference called by the Senate Democratic Caucus to lay out its positions on key issues, including transportation.
He repeated the statement at the end of the news conference. "Everybody, all the other states, raise their gas tax except Virginia," Saslaw said. "Naturally, your gas tax isn’t going to grow."
When we contacted Saslaw, he said he may have misspoken. The senator said he was trying to make a point that, with few exceptions, other states have raised their gasoline excise tax since Virginia’s rate went into effect 26 years ago.
"I don’t know of a state that hasn’t raised their gas tax since 1986," Saslaw told us. "Some of them, they’ve gone up quite a few times."
Saslaw, who's been in the General Assembly since 1976, acknowledged he could have worded his original statement better, saying perhaps he shouldn’t have said all the other states "keep" raising their gas taxes.
Most states do not routinely raise their gas taxes, we learned after consulting a September 2012 report by the Federal Highway Administration and a December 2011 study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Excise gas taxes regularly increase in 14 states. That’s because they have variables in their tax rates that periodically rise with inflation or the price of gas.
Of the remaining 36 states with flat rates, 25 have not increased their excise tax in 10 years of more. And 14 of those states -- including Virginia -- have not raised the levy in 20 years or more.
Virginia’s gas tax rate, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1987, is the second oldest in the nation. It bows only to Alaska, which implemented its 8-cent gas tax in 1970, although it was suspended for a year in 2008.
Virginia’s 26-year-old tax has a peer group, however. South Carolina’s 16-cent per gallon tax went into effect in July 1987. Oklahoma’s 17 cent rate was established in May 1987. New Jersey’s 10.5-cent tax went into effect in July 1988 while Tennessee’s 20-cent levy went into effect in July 1989.
Saslaw said the 49 other states keep raising their gas tax.
Twenty-five states have not raised their gas tax in a decade or more, and 14 of those states -- including Virginia -- have gone at least two decades without an increase.
Saslaw offers no proof for his claim and acknowledges he may have misspoken. His statement is wrong, without basis and we give it our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.