Set reasonable taxes on fuel

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. —  With fuel prices well below $2 per gallon, West Virginia motorists are getting a break in one major expense – but it has had an unpleasant side-effect.

State taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel are linked to retail prices. When costs at the pump go down, so do taxes. That means the state Division of Highways receives less revenue.

Motorists do not need any of the studies done on the subject to inform them the DOH does not have enough money to maintain highways and bridges adequately and build needed new ones. A few miles on many roads in the state makes that clear.

Still, action by the state Senate to rectify the situation went too far. Senators passed a bill that would, if enacted, increase DOH revenue by about $315 million a year.

That money would have come out of Mountain State residents’ pockets in the form of higher taxes and fees. The bill’s primary component is a one-cent per dollar spent increase in the sales tax. It has been estimated that would raise about $200 million a year.

Members of the House of Delegates Finance Committee balked at that, and at increases in various fees paid by vehicle purchasers and owners. As matters stood on Tuesday, they had removed the sales tax and fee provisions from the bill.

Left intact was a plan to increase revenue by about $33 million a year through the excise tax on fuel. The bill stipulates it will be increased by 3 cents over the normal rate during years when gasoline and diesel fuel are selling for $2 a gallon or less.

But that may not be enough, Mike Clowser, of the West Virginia Contractors Association, suggested. According to a published report, Clowser noted revenue from the state’s wholesale tax on fuel also has declined.

Finance Committee members were right to pull the sales tax and fee increases out of the bill. But they should do something about per-gallon taxes paid directly and indirectly by motorists.

Tax rates should be adequate to provide revenue equal to that of a few years ago, before fuel prices and taxes plunged. Surely members of the Finance Committee can determine how many cents per gallon that would require.

West Virginians cannot afford stiff tax increases – but something moderate yet realistic, paid by highway users, would not prompt much grumbling at the pump.

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