RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginians may soon be paying higher gas and tobacco taxes but won’t have to get their cars inspected each year.
Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled a $135 billion, two-year state budget plan Tuesday that included those ideas as well as hefty new spending to boost early education, clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and reduce health insurance premiums.
“This spending plan makes generational investments in areas that have been underfunded for years and ensures that we take care of our most vulnerable Virginians,” Northam said.
The governor, a Democrat, said his budget would also put more money in reserves than the state has ever had.
Lawmakers will vote on a budget during next year’s legislative session. Democrats are set to have full control of the state house for the first time in more than two decades.
A better-than-expected economy has given Northam more money to spend on his state budget, and the governor is not proposing any changes to most of the state’s sales, income and corporate tax rates.
He does want to raise the cigarette tax from 30 cents to 60 cents and increase taxes on other tobacco products by 20%. He also wants the state’s gas tax to go up by 12 cents during the next three years, and then tie future increases to inflation.
A spokesperson for the governor told 8News that the proposed tax includes other tobacco products, like e-cigarettes, but not apply to any so-called “heated products.”
While Northam wants to invest more money into schools and address affordable housing, more more money could come out of some Virginian’s pockets at the same time. On Tuesday, 8News spoke with Chesterfield residents about their thoughts on the possibility of paying more at the pump.
“I’m self-employed and I use a lot of gas,” Derrick Upchurch said. “I don’t feel they should raise gas especially after they just managed to come down after being so high for so long.”
A possible bit of positive news for drivers is the governor’s proposal that Virginia do away with its annual vehicle safety inspection requirement. The governor said there’s no proof such inspections improve highway safety. He’s also proposing to cut vehicle registration fees in half.
While the proposal could be positive for drivers in Virginia, it could be seen as bad news for auto shops.
“Why would you do something like this?” asked Jerry Jacobson, owner of One Stop Auto Repair on Midlothian Turnpike. Jacobson told 8News that his shop makes roughly $80,000 a year doing inspections.
“The inspections are very important because our families are driving on the highway,” Jacobson said. He told 8News the business greatly benefits from returning customers after inspections. “The inspections are more…customers coming back to you,” he said.
Virginia currently has the second lowest cigarette tax in the country. With the proposed increase, Virginia would still have the lowest rate of any surrounding state aside from North Carolina.
Northam was nearly forced from office earlier this year by a scandal involving blackface. In response, he’s made it a top priority for the rest of his term to address decades-old racial disparities in education, housing, and health care, a push reflected in his budget.
Northam is proposing the biggest ever boost to at-risk schools, $22 million to help lower the maternal mortality rate of African Americans, and $63 million to help affordable housing efforts.
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