RICHMOND — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is urging a group of legislators tasked with hammering out a transportation funding deal to come up with a plan that increases the gas tax and fees, but also shifts a bigger share of existing revenue into roads.
Bolling (R) sent a letter Thursday to the 10 House and Senate members appointed Wednesday night to serve on a transportation conference committee. It came one day after Bolling, who is exploring an independent bid for governor, told The Washington Post that he supports higher gas taxes as part of a broad funding overhaul.
In his letter, Bolling sought to stake out middle ground on an issue that the House and Senate have not been able to come together on since 1986. The House has wanted to pay for transportation by tapping existing revenues in the general fund, which also bankrolls services such as schools, health-care and law enforcement. The Senate has wanted to raise new revenue instead.
Bolling says both new and existing revenue are needed.
“Now is the time for compromise and consensus building,” Bolling said in his letter. “It is not the time to draw lines in the sand or take positions from which one cannot retreat. If all parties involved in these negotiations keep an open mind and express willingness to compromise, I am confident that an acceptable transportation agreement can be reached this year.”
Bolling backs a plan, supported by the House and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), to devote about $283 million a year in general fund revenue to transportation by 2018. The Senate wants to provide about $56 million a year by that date.
Bolling also supports the $15 increase on car registration fees proposed by McDonnell and the House, as well as the “modest” increase in the gas tax proposed by the Senate.
The Senate plan calls for raising the gas and diesel tax from 17.5 cents per gallon to 22.5 cents per gallon, and tying the tax to the rate of inflation. It also would boost the wholesale tax on gas by 1 percentage point, and raise it again in July 2014 if Congress does not pass legislation allowing states to collect taxes on Internet sales.
It was not clear from Bolling’s letter if he supports all aspects of the Senate’s proposed gas tax hike, or just parts of it. His office did not respond immediately to a call seeking clarification.
Bolling has sought to find middle-of-the road stances on many high-profile issues since he began exploring an independent bid late last year to succeed term-limited McDonnell. Bolling would face Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. White House gate-crasher Tareq Salahi has said he is running as an independent.