Although legislators knocked out a major transportation funding bill in the last General Assembly session, the 2014 session is anticipated to bring new debates over issues related to transportation dollars.
One of the top issues up for debate in this session is who gets to decide how the newfound transportation dollars will be spent. The 2013 legislation is expected to generate nearly $6 billion for transportation over the next five years from new taxes and fees.
Del. Bob Marshall (R-Dist. 13) hopes to curtail the power of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to determine where local transportation dollars are spent.
Marshall said the NVTA, which has a board consisting of local and state elected officials, did not follow standard practices to demonstrate the need for the projects. He has also sued the NVTA, arguing that the body violated state law, in case that is still pending.
“Not one project selected by the current overseers was measured according to conventional standards that VDOT uses,” he said. “That is a disgrace to taxpayers.”
He has submitted a bill that would have the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the statewide body that oversees construction spending, determine how the Northern Virginia funding is spent.
Another Marshall bill, which he described as his “plan B,” would remove the legislative appointees from the NVTA because he believes that legislators serving in an executive capacity is a violation of the Virginia Constitution.
Other legislation will focus on altering the makeup of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The CTB has nine voting members representing each of the VDOT transportation districts, as well as five at-large voting members. Top state transportation officials serve on the board, but do not have a vote except in the case of a tie, when the Secretary of Transportation may cast a vote.
Some local legislators have been trying for several years to change the makeup of the CTB to include greater representation from the most populous parts of the state.
Del. Scott Surovell (D-Dist. 44) has backed such legislation in the past, which this year was submitted by Del. David Ramadan (R-Dist. 87). Surovell said the VDOT districts are based on the state’s congressional districts from the 1930s.
“Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads have 65 percent of the state’s population and only three votes,” Surovell said.
Ramadan’s bill would give each of those more populous construction districts a second voting representative.
Many Northern Virginia legislators are backing bills that would repeal the new $64 fee on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles that was part of last year’s transportation funding package.
The concept was predicated on the idea that drivers of hybrids are buying less gas, and therefore not paying their fair share into state transportation funds.
Surovell, the chief patron of one of the several bills introduced to repeal the tax, said that logic is flawed.
Drivers of even the most fuel-efficient hybrids are only paying about $24 less in fuel taxes per year, on average, than drivers of standard vehicles, he said. Most of those drivers purchase the “clean fuel” license plates that allow them to use some HOV lanes, which come with a $25 fee.
Further, he said, there is a wide range of fuel efficiency among the various types of hybrids.
“A hybrid Tahoe doesn’t get anything close to what a Prius gets,” in terms of miles per gallon, he said.
Above all that, he said, the government shouldn’t be taxing people who are trying to do something beneficial for the environment.
“As a matter of public policy, the hybrid tax just doesn’t make any sense,” Surovell said. “It’s like taxing people for eating their vegetables … or taxing nonsmokers.”
The Virginia General Assembly session begins Jan. 8.