Va. House passes McDonnell’s transportation plan

RICHMOND — Virginia’s House of Delegates on Tuesday passed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s transportation plan to replace the gas tax with an increase in the sales tax to pay for roads.

The vote was 53-46.

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Members on both sides of the aisle said they disliked elements of the package. But they also said something was better than nothing and hoped to advance the measure to continue working and reaching a compromise to improve it.

“Do I like everything in it? No, I don’t,” Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said.

The House bill eliminated McDonnell’s proposed $100 fee on new hybrid cars and allowed for regional transportation projects. But it kept the centerpiece of McDonnell’s plan: a general sales tax increase and his abolition of the 17½ cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. Jones said the bill would bring in about $52 million less than McDonnell’s bill over five years.

“Today’s vote advances our comprehensive plan one step closer to enactment,” McDonnell said in statement. “It is a major step forward towards finally putting in place the long-term transportation funding plan that Virginia has needed for far too long.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the governor cited a new national study on traffic congestion to urge the General Assembly to approve his funding plan.

“Today is the day for action,” McDonnell said at a news conference. “Democrats and Republicans have the chance to address and fix the transportation funding problem.”

He singled out Senate Democrats for threatening to derail transportation funding “for political reasons” or because they did not want Virginia to use “a dime of general funds” toward roads.

“There are no more acceptable excuses,” McDonnell said ahead of a Senate vote on the bill. “What I’ve drafted is something that is reasonable . . . We will do everything possible to make sure we do not leave here without having a transportation solution.”

Tuesday marks crossover in the General Assembly — when bills must pass one house or the other or die for the session.

McDonnell has proposed an overhaul of how the commonwealth funds transportation and road projects by eliminating the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax, raise the sales tax from 5 to 5.8 percent and boost car registration fees by $15. By 2018, the governor’s plan would also take $283 million a year from the general fund, which funds services such as education and law enforcement.

The governor also has said his plan will bring in $845 million a year by fiscal 2018. He is counting on federal legislation to deliver $250 million of that, betting on a bill — long stalled in Congress — that would give states the authority to make online retailers collect sales taxes.

On Monday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II lined up with a Republican state senator proposing a more conservative alternative to McDonnell’s plan.

vozzellal@washpost.com

 
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