Mixed reaction to Gov. McDonnell’s transportation package

Delegate Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights says he supports Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to overhaul the system for funding transportation in Virginia and to pump more money into projects especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Bob McDonnell transportation

By Sam Isaacs | Capital News Service

Delegate Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights says he supports Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to overhaul the system for funding transportation in Virginia and to pump more money into projects especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Cox, the majority leader in the House of Delegates, said the proposals unveiled this week by McDonnell, a fellow Republican, would benefit the entire state by investing an additional $3.1 billion in transportation projects and maintenance.

Cox expressed frustration that Democrats have come out against the plan, which would eliminate the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax but raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.

“I’m a little disappointed in the Democrats for already saying that this bill is dead on arrival,” Cox said.

The Democratic critics include Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax. He called McDonnell’s plan a “startling turn of events.”

“Eliminating the gas tax is eliminating a tax paid for by the oil and gas companies and placing it on the consumers,” Petersen said.

Petersen has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 733) that, instead of eliminating the gasoline tax, would adjust it based on the fuel efficiency index.

Another Democratic senator, Henry Marsh of Richmond, said raising the sales tax to fund road projects would be unfair to many consumers.

“A lot of underprivileged people in urban areas may not drive and instead choose to take the bus. They will have to pay the same tax as those who frequently use the interstates,” he said.

Marsh also expressed his concerns that the bill may take funding away from education, health care and law enforcement.

McDonnell’s plan, called “Virginia’s Road to the Future,” has won support from business groups. On Thursday, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce endorsed the package.

“Current levels of congestion outside and within our region have placed business growth, tourism, port growth and our military facilities at risk,” said chamber President Jack Hornbeck.

“The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce applauds Gov. McDonnell’s leadership in offering legislation that from our perspective will address what has been the Chamber’s top legislative priority for many years.”

One element of McDonnell’s plan calls for an increase in the fees that alternative fuel vehicle owners must pay. Petersen does not see that idea as a practical source of revenue.

“With alternative vehicles, you still buy gas. They currently make up such a small percentage of the market, it is just like taxing horses – it is irrelevant,” he said.

McDonnell also would raise the vehicle registration fee by $15.

The governor acknowledged that it will be a challenge to overhaul the system for funding and improving Virginia’s transportation network.

“If this was easy, it would have been done 25 years ago,” he said.

photo courtesy of VCU CNS

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