State Senate passes transportation funding bill

state-capitol2A bipartisan 26-14 State Senate vote would raise more than $900 million annually for transportation maintenance and new construction.

The bill, a substitute to similar legislation that passed the House of Delegates last week, raises the gas tax by five cents and indexes it to the cost of the construction materials it takes to build roads. The legislation also imposes a new 1 percent tax on wholesale gasoline and increases the car registration fee by $15, and directs an additional 0.05 percentage points of the state sales tax toward transportation, moving $50 million of general funds to transportation.

The plan also gives the three heavily congested urban regions the flexibility to raise revenue to address their unique transportation needs. Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Central Virginia will each be allowed to create and earn revenue from a new regional sales tax of up to 1 percent.

“Today’s vote by the Senate is another step in creating a final plan for addressing Virginia’s transportation challenges on a long-term basis,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “It is now time for both bodies of the General Assembly to work together in conference and agree upon a fiscally responsible plan that will pass with bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, and which I can sign into law. ”

And therein could lie the rub. Neither the House bill and the original package introduced by the governor included an increase in the gas tax. In fact, McDonnell’s package eliminated the gas tax entirely in favor of an increase in the state sales tax.

“The Senate plan raises over $900 million per year for state transportation needs, and gives localities the flexibility they have been asking for to solve their unique problems. As long as the conference report resembles the Senate plan, we will have a transportation bill this year. If it varies too widely, we likely will not,” Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said.

“I’m pleased the Senate approved this long-term plan to address Virginia’s transportation crisis,” State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said. “I’m especially pleased so many of my Republican colleagues voted for this plan, which raises sufficient revenue to address long-overdue construction needs across the Commonwealth. In the coming days and weeks, I look forward to working with the House of Delegates and Gov. McDonnell to craft a final package that we all can support.”

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