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Tax Prius drivers, shoppers, but not the gas guzzlers


Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has a proposal to solve his state’s long-term budget problems. He wants to eliminate the taxes on gasoline and start taxing Prius drivers and shoppers in general to fund Virginia’s transportation needs.

None of these elected dolts in government would consider ideas like the Arkansas prohibition again deficit spending. Washington would likely view our law against running up a deficit as illegal or immoral, or both.

McDonnell is trying to address a serious fiscal issue with bad policy. Americans are driving more fuel-efficient cars and trucks than ever before. Motor vehicle fuel-tax revenues, which fund the bulk share of state and federal transportation projects, have flat lined or shrunk, while the cost of building and repairing roads, bridges and highways has increased.

Virginia could try to forestall the financial problems by raising its 17.5-cent gas tax, which is among the lowest in the nation and has not been increased since 1986. Instead, McDonnell wants to abolish the gas tax and raise the state’s sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent and direct more of those revenues to the transportation budget. The state would continue taxing diesel fuel used by trucks while assessing an annual, $100 fee on drivers who own hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.

Al Glover, a neighbor who recently moved from White Hall to Conway, may detour around Virginia in the future in his Prius.

It doesn’t make much sense to tax hybrids and no other high-efficiency vehicles that run on regular gasoline, which will probably account for many of the improvements we’ll see in fuel economy in the next several years.

There are all sorts of other alternatives to the gas tax: Tax drivers based on the number of miles they travel in-state, which can be tracked with a GPS device designed to only collect mileage data.

Police would love the GPS device for tracking burglars and drug dealers. It may have more merit that first suspected.

Given that a recent poll found our senators and representatives in Congress are less popular than colonoscopies, cockroaches and head lice, you sometimes wonder where our legislators come up with their proposed laws.

During an April 2005 budget hearing, a U.S. senator asked why we needed the National Weather Service when forecasts are available from The Weather Channel and AccuWeather. This guy was serious, but misinformed, since much of the material the two firms provide come from the weather service.

Often TV weathercasters talk about “my forecast” or the “KXYZ custom Doppler-radar forecast.” It is worth noting that the station meteorologists seldom deviate far from weather service predictions.

Local weather personalities and The Weather Channel are in the entertainment business. They are more interested in ratings, so they hype the weather as much as they can.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., proposed that federal meteorologists be forbidden from competing with companies such as the private sources of weather information. It seems Santorium had received nearly $4,000 from AccuWeather’s founder and executive vice president since 2000.

In September 2005, while the bill was still in committee, Santorum criticized the National Weather Service’s forecasting of Hurricane Katrina, maintaining that more lives could have been saved if the NWS’s operation focused on severe weather. However, both public and professional opinion held that the weather service’s forecasting was substantially better than most other sources, and Santorum’s criticism was ignored.

The work in La-La land of the Potomac never ceases.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.