Kaine May Float Gas-Tax Increase to Offset Shortfall

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

RICHMOND, April 29 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Tuesday that he would consider backing an increase in Virginia's 17.5 cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, despite the record price of fuel at the pump.

In an interview on WTOP (103.5 FM), Kaine said the increase may be needed to generate money to build and repair roads in the wake of the Virginia Supreme Court's ruling in February that threw out last year's transportation plan.

"All issues are on the table," Kaine said. "We are talking about a gas tax."

Kaine said he will call the General Assembly back into session in June to try to force a resolution of the state's transportation problems, including a projected shortfall of several hundred million dollars in the part of the budget that finances road maintenance.

Kaine said he expects to announce his proposal, which would require legislative approval, in about two weeks. He said his plan probably will include several revenue enhancements, including a possible increase in the 3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases and a potential increase in the gas tax.

"The way to solve our needs is not just do one thing. You've got to spread the pain out a little bit," Kaine said of the enhancements. "I think the message of last year is, we are not going to solve it by just doing one thing."

Increasing the gas tax, which was last raised in 1986, will probably generate fierce debate, given the price of fuel.

Some House Democrats have spoken against raising the tax, but Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said he thinks it could be raised without a backlash from consumers.

"When it's already at $3.50 a gallon, it's not like you are going to notice an extra 3 cents," Saslaw said. "It goes up and down that much in one day."

But House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said a gas-tax increase would hit the middle class hard and do little to solve the state's long-term transportation needs. "You got folks who are just trying to get back and forth from work, and they are struggling out here," Griffith said.

He also said that the gas tax will have "a diminishing rate of return" as vehicles become more fuel efficient.

Del. David B. Albo, one of three Republican delegates from Fairfax County who could play a key role in brokering a compromise with the governor, said he would not rule out a statewide increase in the gas tax. But Albo said the General Assembly would also have to change the current funding formulas, which he says currently send 34 cents of every dollar raised in Northern Virginia for roads to rural parts of the state.

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