McDonnell would tap sales tax to fund roads

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 15, 2011

RICHMOND - Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell asked legislators Friday to designate a portion of the state sales taxes to road projects in the two most congested areas of the commonwealth: Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

"Not only are they two of the fastest-growing and most populous regions in America, but they are some of the most congested regions in the country,'' said McDonnell (R). "These revenues will help to accelerate those regional projects that lack full funding."

The .25 percent of the discretionary sales tax revenue generated in those regions would provide $140 million a year. About $90 million of that is expected to be generated for Northern Virginia.

McDonnell was joined at a news conference by several Republicans from the General Assembly, including House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and representatives of 37 transportation groups.

Some Democrats, who narrowly control the state Senate, have concerns about the proposal. They have long contended that Virginia's ailing road network requires raising additional revenue through a tax increase and not through using the state's general fund - which provides money to core services such as schools and public safety - to finance highway improvements.

"We're not taking money out of the general fund," Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. "What are they thinking?"

Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the proposal by McDonnell is fairly minimal and doesn't trouble him deeply. But he said it would generate so little for roads that it might not be worth doing.

"If I were him, I wouldn't do it. I don't think it will do much good," he said. "I think this bill has to be looked at as a starting point."

Virginia's transportation needs reach into the tens of billions of dollars. The state has hundreds of unfinished projects.

McDonnell has said that he will ask legislators to spend $400 million on roads and bridges while borrowing $2.9 billion over the next three years for transportation.

Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton released a list of 900 transportation projects across the state that could be paid for from McDonnell's funding proposals if they passed.

In Northern Virginia, they include: widening Interstate 66 from Gainesville to Haymarket; widening Rolling Road in Fairfax County to address the expected traffic impacts of BRAC; widening Route 7 in Loudoun County; widening Route 28 in Fairfax and Prince William counties; and continuing work on the high-occupancy lanes on interstates 95 and 395.

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