To the editor:
Our local newspapers have written repeatedly on the need to provide additional transportation revenue, particularly to the Metro system that capably serves our region and dramatically reduces traffic congestion each day for Washington commuters. The Metro board of directors has consistently struggled with funding for operations and maintenance needs, and with increasing ridership our region has come to rely on Metro to handle the regions mobility. It is increasingly apparent that our region needs a safe, reliable and convenient Metro system.
But in many respects, You get what you pay for, and if our region wants a first-class transit system we must put the needed resources in place for Metro to meet our growing needs. Additional federal, state and local resources are needed by Metro and I wish to be counted as one elected official who advocates for additional funding. In fact, I propose an increase in the Northern Virginia gas tax as the first step for additional Metro funding.
Northern Virginia presently has a 2 percent gas tax devoted to Metro funding and this levy has not been increased since the 1980s. Every 1-percent increase in the gas tax would yield approximately $19.3 million in additional funding for Metro. Our local dollars represent a substantial down payment on improving our regional transit system, which moves thousands of people each day, and hopefully our funding will leverage federal and state funds for Metro.
Additionally, there are other reasons for Northern Virginia to consider an increase in the gas tax:
Additional transit revenues should come from the driving public and not from real property taxpayers. In many respects, gas taxes are much like user fees. Travelers and visitors to the region should pay more of the burden as they are some of the direct beneficiaries of reduced congestion brought to the region by Metro. Additional gas tax revenues will also diversify our revenue base and ease the burden on real property owners who presently pay the difference between current gas taxes and our jurisdictional shares of Metro funding.
The potential for more federal funds for Metro operations and maintenance may come with a requirement for additional local funding and a gas tax increase will help satisfy that requirement.
Additional local funding from Northern Virginia serves as a powerful statement to state and federal officials that we value Metro and that we, as a region, are willing to pay more for a safe, reliable mass transit system.
The Northern Virginia gas tax rate has not been substantially increased since the 1980s, and even with a 2-percent rate increase Northern Virginia remains competitive with Maryland and the District where local gas taxes are higher.
Additional operating revenues will help keep fares at their current levels so they do not become a deterrent to transit usage, keeping commuters off already crowded roadways.
I think it is apparent that our localities will be facing high Metro allocations next year for both operations and maintenance and we must be forward thinking when anticipating this increase. I believe a modest gas tax increase affords us the best opportunity to meet this growing demand in a fair and equitable manner.
Kerry J. Donley
Vice Mayor, Alexandria