THERE CAN'T BE anybody in Virginia who doesn't depend on the state's highway system in one way or another -- and it's time to put more money where those interests are. There's no question that an increase in the gasoline tax is coming, and the sooner the better. That, presumably, is why the state Senate approved a penny-a-gallon increase by a vote of 34 to 4 on Monday -- without waiting for a special commission report requested by Gov. Gerald Baliles or for the governor to announce his position on the matter. If Gov. Baliles is as serious about transportation improvements as he has said he will be, his support should be on the way.

The tax increase is part of a package that would raise an estimated $790 million over six years. Besides raising the state gasoline tax from 11 cents a gallon to 12 cents, the measure would establish a floor of $1 a gallon on which gasoline wholesalers pay an excise tax; increase the titling tax on the sale of motor vehicles from 2 percent to 2 1/2 percent and set a minimum tax of $25; increase the extra cost of a personalized license plate from $10 to $15; increase the fee for a temporary license plate from $1 to $5; increase the fee for transferring plates to a new owner from $2 to $5, and phase out an 8-cent-a-gallon tax break currently given for ethanol (commonly called gasohol).

It happens that the sponsor of this legislation is Senate Finance Chairman Edward E. Willey, who also happens to be the man Gov. Baliles chose to head the Commission of Transportation Needs in the 21st Century -- the group charged with making recommendations for a special session of the legislature in September. Sen. Willey already has said that his legislative package and the governor's goals are not in conflict.

He ought to know -- and if so, why wait until September to get moving? Raising money is only a first step anyway. There's plenty of work left for a special session, starting with the politically charged business of deciding whose roads get fixed or built and when. That could require the full time and attention of both the executive and legislative branches for a while, which is why the governor's idea of a special session is a good one. But right now, the House should join in preparing for that important time by enacting the gas package now.