Virginia’s gas tax goes down today, though motorists may not notice it for a while in the pump price.

Starting today, the tax rate for gasoline will be 11.1 cents a gallon, based on 3.5 percent of the statewide average wholesale price for a gallon of gasoline.

Virginia had been levying a tax of 17.5 cents per gallon on all fuels used in highway vehicles. That per-gallon tax has been eliminated in favor of the percentage tax.

The state projects that the new wholesale highway fuel tax will raise $626.3 million for improvements to Virginia’s overburdened and deteriorating transportation system in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins today.

“It’s reasonable to think that the pump price will go down about 6 cents a gallon,” said transportation economist George E. Hoffer at the University of Richmond.

However, Hoffer said, “you should not expect to see any real price reduction from this 6 cents per gallon until the more expensive gasoline (already) in the Virginia distribution system is used up.”

Gas prices have already been dropping in the past week in the Richmond area in response to lower crude oil prices, Hoffer pointed out.

On June 20, the Richmond region’s average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded regular was $3.42, according to the AAA Mid-Atlantic travel organization. By Friday, the price had decreased to $3.35.

Consumers should start seeing lower prices related to the tax change by the end of July, said David Walsh, president and owner of Woco Oil Co. Inc. in Mechanicsville, which sells gasoline to about 50 gas stations.

“AAA urges the petroleum industry to pass gas tax reductions on to the consumer and not exploit the situation as an opportunity to increase profits,” Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement.

If gas prices do in fact drop by 6 cents a gallon, AAA said, Virginia would become one of the most affordable states in the nation to purchase gas.

The gas tax rate is based on the wholesale price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline, determined twice a year to get a six-month statewide average, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

The two base periods for the gas tax will be Dec. 1-May 31 for the tax period starting July 1, and June 1-Nov. 30 for the tax period starting Jan. 1.

To set the initial tax rate, which is going into effect today, state law used the wholesale price on Feb. 20: $3.17 a gallon.

The new gas tax also uses that Feb. 20 wholesale price as the minimum for calculating future semiannual rates for the gas tax. In short, the tax can go up, but not below 11.1 cents a gallon.

Drivers in Hampton Roads will not see much impact from the gas tax change because the new state transportation funding law imposes an additional gasoline sales tax of 2.1 percent in the localities making up the Hampton Roads Planning District.

That sales tax surcharge will essentially offset the reduction in the gas tax occurring today. “For all practical purposes, the tax really didn’t get changed” for motorists in much of southeastern Virginia, Walsh said.

The Hampton Roads Planning District takes in Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Southampton, Surry and York counties, and the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Poquoson, Williamsburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.

Under the state’s new law, the tax rate for diesel fuel will be 20.2 cents a gallon, based on 6 percent of the statewide average wholesale price for a gallon of diesel.

To compensate for the higher tax rate on diesel fuel compared with that on gasoline, drivers of diesel-powered cars and small trucks — those weighing up to 10,000 pounds — will be able to get a refund equal to the difference between the diesel and gasoline tax rates.

To qualify for a refund, fuel purchasers will need to hold on to the original receipts and file an application with the state Department of Motor Vehicles within 12 months of buying the fuel.

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