Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling backs gas tax hike

February 13, 2013

RICHMOND — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, in another break with fellow Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, supports raising the gas tax as part of a larger transportation funding overhaul.

Bolling, a Republican exploring an independent bid for governor, made his position known in an interview with The Washington Post Wednesday. He spoke shortly after the Senate had amended McDonnell’s transportation bill in a way that drew the support of every Democrat but repelled all but a handful of Republicans.

Bolling had supported McDonnell’s original plan, which would have done away with the gas tax, raised the sales tax and taken $283 million a year in general fund revenue for transportation. But Bolling called the Senate version “a good blueprint.”

The Senate plan includes a hike in retail and wholesale taxes on fuel, and allows congested regions to impose local sales taxes to fund transportation. It shifts $56 million a year from the general fund, which pays for services such as education and law enforcement, to education.

“I think the plan that passed the Senate is a good blueprint for what we’re going to have to do to forge compromise,” Bolling said. “It involves higher taxes and fees. I know that Republicans in the House of Delegates don’t like that. But the truth is, we’re going to have to have some higher taxes in order to generate the money we need to solve the problem and produce a package that will be agreed to by the Senate. The problem with the Senate plan is it doesn’t include enough general fund revenue, which is something I think the House of Delegates is going to insist on.”

The more conservative House rejected the Senate’s plan, and the two chambers appointed a 10-member conference committee Wednesday to try to reach a compromise.

“I’ve always felt at the end of the day, the best way to solve this problem is a reasonable increase in the gas tax, a comparable investment of existing general fund revenues in transportation, and a regional component, for Northern Virginia, central Virginia and Hampton Roads,” Bolling said. “And you see all three of those elements in the Senate plan. ... The Senate is going to have to give a little more, [it is] probably not going to get all of the taxes and fees that they want. But the House of Delegates is going to have to yield on this total objection to any package that includes higher taxes or fees.”

The lieutenant governor lacks authority to vote on revenue bills such as the transportation measure. But he can break ties on related floor substitutes and amendments, so his position could affect whether and how a final transportation bill gets out of the chamber.

Bolling’s stance on the bill represents yet another break with GOP leadership since he began exploring an independent bid late last year to succeed term-limited McDonnell. He would face Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Bolling has come out against uranium mining in south-central Virginia, arming teachers, and the GOP’s surprise Senate redistricting plan. He has spoken in favor of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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