Bipartisan compromise on roads comes out of conference
A 10-member General Assembly conference committee has reported out a compromise on transportation funding that would cut gas taxes, raise the states sales tax and divert money from the state budget currently going to schools, law enforcement and other core government services.
The legislation, which could come up for a vote in both chambers of the General Assembly as early as Thursday, would replace the current 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale fuel tax, convert the existing per-gallon tax on diesel fuel to a 6 percent wholesale tax, and push the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent.
The deal will provide roughly $880 million a year in new revenues for road maintenance and new construction.
Gov. Bob McDonnell appears to be on the verge of a major legislative victory in his final year in office. The bill, if ultimately passed by the House and Senate, would represent the first movement in the area of transportation funding in Virginia since 1986.
“It has been 27 years since we have enacted a long-term, sustainable, comprehensive transportation funding plan for Virginia. During those nearly three decades of inaction we have witnessed congestion worsen and the quality of life of our citizens decline,” McDonnell said.
“The bipartisan failure to address our transportation needs for almost three decades has cost every citizen of this state thousands of dollars, and countless hours of time that could have been spent at home and at work. This year, we have finally worked together, across party and regional lines, to fix this quality of life issue,” McDonnell said.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who holds a potentially key tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which is currently split 20-20 among Democrats and Republicans, is solidly behind the compromise effort.
“I am pleased that Senate and House negotiators have come to an agreement on a long term transportation funding plan,” Bolling said. “For the better part of my two decades in public service we have struggled to find a solution to our transportation challenges. Philosophical, political and regional differences have prevented us from achieving an agreement. Finding a bridge between these divergent approaches is very challenging, and I commend the conferees for being willing to compromise, consider alternative proposals and put aside differences to forge a historic agreement that provides substantial and sustainable revenue to support Virginia’s transportation funding needs.”
“This is not a perfect plan, but it is an achievable plan. By definition, no compromise is perfect and no one gets everything they want. That is the essence of a compromise. I strongly encourage members of the House and Senate to support this conference report. This is a deal that generates real money for transportation and it will finally solve our long term transportation funding needs. Now is the time for action,” Bolling said.
Presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe is also urging passage of the compromise bill.
“After years of political and literal gridlock, the General Assembly conferees have produced a plan that would provide funding to improve our transportation system and keep Virginia competitive,” McAuliffe said. “This proposal is not perfect, but more inaction is not an option. Inaction on transportation has meant that our families have been stuck in traffic, companies have seen their products delayed and the Commonwealth has seen our competitiveness reduced. Virginians expect their leaders to pass a mainstream solution now.
“This proposal is not perfect. For example, I do not support the diversion of General Fund resources because of the potential future impact on education, health care and public safety. However, Virginians are demanding that we compromise to find a mainstream solution, and that compromise will necessarily be imperfect for both sides,” McAuliffe said.
“Virginia simply cannot afford to miss this opportunity to make substantial progress on transportation. If we want the Commonwealth to be the best place for business and jobs of the future, we need to have