The House version, based on Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s proposed funding overhaul, would scrap the gas tax, raise the sales tax and make a substantial claim on some of the existing general-fund revenue currently spent on schools, public safety and other services.
The Senate plan relies more on generating new revenue. It not only keeps the gas tax but hikes it, and allows it to rise with inflation. It also raises the tax on the wholesale price of fuel and boosts it again if Congress does not come through with a particular piece of legislation. And it gives localities the power to impose local sales taxes for transportation projects.
The conferees agreed at the outset to set aside their most fundamental differences — how they would raise money for transportation — and first try to reach an agreement on how much money they need.
The Senate plans to raise about $900 million a year once fully implemented, while the House version would generate about $825 million. Those figures are farther apart than they appear; both plans count on federal legislation to provide about $250 million of that, but only the Senate version includes a contingency in case Congress does not pass the law allowing states to collect Internet sales taxes.
After meeting separately with his fellow House conferees, Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) returned to the full committee to say the House might support a plan generating $900 million a year. But he said the deal would have to stick with the House position on general funds.
The House, like McDonnell, wants to devote about $283 million in general funds to transportation by 2018. The Senate, which has long resisted using general funds for fear of cheating schools and other services, provides $56 million a year from general funds.
Jones said his caucus would also want to make sure that any funds raised through regional sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads would be counted toward the $900 million limit.
Senate conferees indicated that they might be willing to provide as much as $150 million to $175 million a year in general funds. Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) said $40 million of that could come from state agencies that dip into the Transportation Trust Fund for various programs.
Senate conferees also urged their House counterparts to consider including central Virginia, which includes the Richmond area, among the regions given authority to raise local sales taxes for transportation.
“I think we made some good progress today,” Wagner said after the meeting.