The transportation deal reached by lawmakers in the final days of that session was a drastically overhauled version of a plan McDonnell submitted at the beginning of the session. McDonnell’s amendments included reducing the $100 fee on alternative-fuel vehicles to $64, and dropping the vehicle titling tax from 4.3 percent to 4.15. He also suggested reducing the lodging tax from 3 percent to 2 percent to keep hotels in Northern Virginia competitive.
McDonnell also changed the legislative language concerning the regional taxation authorities after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) advised they could be unconstitutional in their current form.
The compromise specifically includes the establishment of transportation funds for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
Cuccinelli, who is running for governor this year, warned that, with few exceptions, the state constitution does not allow the General Assembly to impose special taxes on geographic areas.
The governor’s proposed amendments redefined the regional tax authorities in terms of population and traffic use, instead of geography. The changes call for population thresholds of 1.5 million residents, 15 million transit trips a year and 1.2 million registered vehicles before a new basis for tax can be established. Currently, only Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads meet those criteria.
Del. Ben L. Cline (R-Rockbridge) said Wednesday the bill could have unintended consequences, saying other localities could band together to meet the criteria and qualify for the regional tax funds.
The Senate and House also bade farewell to several members, including Del. Lacey E. Putney, who was the longest-serving member of the Virginia legislature. Putney, an independent from Bedford County who caucused with Republicans, was first elected in 1961.
“It’s not often that I’m speechless, but I hardly know what to say today,” Putney told his fellow delegates. “I feel like the mosquito at the nudist camp. There is so much territory to cover, you don’t know where to start.” Among the eight departing House members besides Putney were five Republicans and two Democrats, including Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax).
In the Senate, Harry B. Blevins (R-Chesapeake) surprised some colleagues by announcing that he, too, would retire. Blevins, 77, a retired high school principal, was often considered a swing vote on controversial measures.
At the governor’s request, the General Assembly also agreed to soften the blow of stricter new penalties for texting while driving.
The original measure would have imposed a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. It also would have created a mandatory minimum fine of $500 on any driver convicted of reckless driving while texting. The governor recommended cutting those fines in half.
Lawmakers continued to work late Wednesday night and had yet to decide on proposed judges.