Va. Senate Approves Gas Tax Hike

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 15, 2008; 1:20 PM

RICHMOND, Feb. 15 -- The Virginia state Senate voted today to approve a 5-cent increase in the gas tax over the next five years to raise additional money to maintain the state's highways.

The Senate bill, approved 25 to 15, would increase the state's 17.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax by a penny every year until 2014.

Virginia's gas tax hasn't been raised since 1986. Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said the tax increase is needed because there is a $390 million shortfall in the part of the budget used to fill potholes, plow snow and otherwise maintain roads.

If the deficit isn't closed, Saslaw said, money will have to be diverted from the highway construction budget.

"We are gradually draining our construction budget dry, and now we have eight years till it is dry," Saslaw said.

A 1-cent increase in the gas tax raises an additional $52 million a year. Saslaw said the increase would cost the average family the equivalent of "two Big Mac meals a year."

But the measure faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. Two weeks ago, a House committee rejected a separate proposal to raise the gas tax by 5 cents.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said this morning the GOP leadership in the House has little appetite to raise taxes this year.

In today's debate in the Senate, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) argued it would send the wrong signal to raise taxes while the state faces a shortfall of more than $1 billion in its overall budget for 2009-2010.

"Virginia should be looking for ways to cut spending and not looking for ways to raise taxes," Obenshain said.

But four Senate Republicans joined with all 21 Senate Democrats in approving Saslaw's bill. Sens. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester) and Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax) were the only Northern Virginia lawmakers to vote against it.

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