One week after Virginia transportation funding reform appeared lifeless in the General Assembly, legislation to secure stable and sufficient roads revenue remained alive, advancing through the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.
But how long it will last and in what form remains anyone’s guess.
The Senate Finance Committee significantly amended the transportation bill sent over from the House of Delegates and passed it 9-6. The full Senate was scheduled to take up the measure Wednesday.
When the bill arrived in the Senate committee, it largely reflected Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s vision for a transportation funding overhaul. That vision included eliminating the state’s gasoline tax and upping the sales and use tax nearly 1 percent, increasing the state’s vehicle registration fee by $15, with the revenue going toward intercity passenger rail and transit and imposing a $100 annual fee on alternative fuel vehicles, also to be used for transit.
The new Senate Finance version restores the gas tax and increases it from 17.5 cents per gallon to 22.5 cents per gallon, adds a 1 percent wholesale gas tax, increases the vehicle registration fee by $15 and would allow certain heavy-congestion localities to add another 1 percent fuel tax. The plan also directs an additional .05 percentage points of the state sales tax toward transportation.
While McDonnell acknowledged the Senate Finance Committee’s action was a step toward passing a comprehensive funding plan, he didn’t announce all-out support for the deal.
“The Senate bill uses far too little in general funds, which is an essential part of a solution,” McDonnell said in a prepared statement. “I remain convinced that the gas tax is a declining revenue source and therefore we must look for new ways to meet our growing transportation needs … It is important to remember today’s action is not a final bill. Instead, it simply advanced the process of passing a final transportation plan to the next step.”
One week earlier during the legislature’s crossover -- when each chamber finalizes its own bills and sends them to the other chamber -- the Senate failed to advance its own transportation legislation, leaving the House version as McDonnell’s last chance to claim any success solving the state’s roads and transit funding crisis.
The governor said he looks forward to working with leaders in both chambers to craft and finalize a transportation solution in 2013, the final General Assembly session of his governorship.
“I fully expect a final transportation bill to be more fiscally responsible and balanced, recognizing transportation is a core function of state government,” McDonnell said. “It is also critical to ensure that the conference report legislation can be supported in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate, and is legislation that I can sign into law.”
Several Senate Democrats support the latest plan, claiming it will raise nearly $900 million per year once fully implemented. McDonnell’s original plan was estimated to raise approximately $620 million annually.
Veteran lawmakers routinely estimate the commonwealth needs around $1 billion a year to adequately address the state’s failing transportation infrastructure.
“This is a good plan that will finally begin to solve our transportation funding problems,” Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in a statement. “It raises the revenue our state desperately needs to repair our roads and begin long-delayed new construction. Gov. McDonnell and the House of Delegates should take this plan very seriously, and I look forward to moving this legislation forward.”