McDonnell (R) signaled Monday that he too was willing to deal, even as he visited Northern Virginia to make a sales pitch for his transportation funding plan to the most populous — and arguably one of the most gridlocked — areas of the commonwealth.
“We are on the brink of having significant success,” McDonnell said, referring to his transportation initiative. “The time for politics is over. It’s time to get this done.”
McDonnell urged Northern Virginians to pressure their legislators, saying his plan offered the best hope for frustrated commuters. But McDonnell also said he would consider a compromise that might include a combination of his sales tax proposal, a gas tax increase or a gradual phasing out — rather than a full end — of the gas tax.
Now that a divisive spat over redistricting has been ended, legislators from both parties have said a transportation compromise might be possible. But with the annual session past the halfway mark and key legislative deadlines looming, both sides must move fast. The House version of the transportation plan — the only surviving version — will have to win approval from the Senate Finance Committee by Tuesday and clear the full Senate by Wednesday to remain viable. Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said a compromise could then be worked out in a conference committee by the middle of next week.
Lawmakers on both sides say the chances for a deal improved after House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) used a procedural maneuver last week to kill the Senate Republicans’ surprise redistricting bill.
McDonnell’s plan would raise $3.1 billion over five years, while the commonwealth needs at least $1 billion a year. Without an infusion of money, the state’s highway construction fund would be broke by 2017. The state has had to make do with less revenue from the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, which has been frozen at 17.5 cents per gallon since 1987. If indexed for inflation, it would be 37 cents today, Chase said.
When asked about whether the elimination of the gas tax would survive negotiations, Howell told reporters that lawmakers were considering its removal.
“I think what comes out of the conference committee will be somewhat different than what goes in,” Howell said. “That [gas tax element] could be a change.”
Lawmakers from both parties and transportation experts say a deal also may require Republicans to raise revenue, perhaps by agreeing to index the gas tax to inflation or boosting the sales tax, while Democrats may have to budge on their refusal to use general fund revenue on roads and highways. A deal may also have to address the desire by cities and urban counties, such as Fairfax and Arlington, to include regional funding options.