West Virginians (and hungry roadtrippers passing through the state) may soon face a new tax on their drivethrough purchases. The West Virginia Department of Transportation has proposed charging an additional five percent tax on food and beverages purchased at drive-through windows, in addition to the six percent customers already pay.
The proposal is one of many suggestions by the state’s transportation department to bring in money for the state road fund. Advocates say the tax is necessary to repair and maintain miles of neglected roads although the connection between drive-through food and road repair is tenuous at best. Other suggestions include levying a one percent surcharge on car insurance premiums. The Department of Highways estimates that the drive-through tax could bring in $50 million a year, and proponents argue that it would encourage healthier eating habits.
There is no indication, however, that the Legislature will support the idea. Customers and business owners are likely to oppose it as well – customers because of the higher prices (and general antipathy toward “sin” taxes), and business owners because of the potential hit to their sales. For instance, customers who would otherwise have made a quick stop for a cup of coffee on the road might be discouraged by the higher price. Moreover, some critics have pointed out that most of the revenue for the state road fund comes from gas taxes – which drive-through customers are already paying.
For his part, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin is not on board. He released a statement on September 14 saying, “I want to be clear that these are suggestions that I strongly oppose and do not in any way support as a means to generate revenue for the state road fund.”