Senate approves transportation compromise

A divided Virginia Senate passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature issue of the 2013 legislative session on Saturday: a bill to overhaul the Commonwealth’s system for funding transportation.

Update #1 — February 24, 2013; 10:02 AM

By Stephen Nielsen | Capital News Service

A divided Virginia Senate passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature issue of the 2013 legislative session on Saturday: a bill to overhaul the Commonwealth’s system for funding transportation.

Just hours before the session’s end, the Senate voted 25-15 for House Bill 2313, which will raise about $880 million a year more for roads and mass transit by increasing sales taxes while lowering the fuels tax.

The debate over how to increase revenue continued right up to the vote.

“This isn’t any bill. This is the only bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg. Supporters said it’s the only way to provide the revenue Virginia’s transportation system needs–and to ease traffic congestion in Northern Virginia and Tidewater.

Others disagreed.

“To me, the final bill represents bad economics and bad transportation policy,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria. He said the state should raise its gasoline tax to address the problems.

HB 2313, which was negotiated by a conference committee and approved 60-40 by the House on Friday, would:

  • Eliminate the 17.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax that consumers pay at the pump. Instead, the state would impose a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. The wholesale tax on diesel fuel would be six percent.
  • Increase Virginia’s sales tax from five percent to 5.3 percent.
    Raise the motor vehicle sales tax from three percent to 4.3 percent.
  • Charge a $100 annual license tax for electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Allow a 0.7 percent sales tax increase in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to fund transportation projects there.

HB 2313 also would boost the proportion of the Commonwealth’s general fund revenue dedicated to transportation from 0.5 percent to 0.675 percent. And it would prohibit tolls on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg without approval from the General Assembly.

“This is truly the best we’re going to get,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax.

Other senators echoed that sentiment.

“Do I feel like we have anyone in this body that can make a perfect plan? No,” said Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax. But he said the transportation plan was close enough and a product of a great deal of compromise between parties.

Still, a dozen Republican senators and three Democrats voted against the bill.

“I don’t agree with having different tax rates in different parts of the Commonwealth,” said Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax.

“Having a regional tax in Northern Virginia–that means my constituents are going to have a surcharge on all their consumer goods, just for living in that one part of the state. I don’t see the fairness in that, so I voted no.”

HB 2313 now goes to McDonnell for his signature.

In a press release, the governor said, “The annals of history will recognize this session as the year that vital transportation funding reforms, substantively ignored since 1986, were enacted to address the decades-old issues that have left Virginia unable to maintain our existing road, rail and transit infrastructure and unable to pay for needed new transportation services.”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted Saturday on HB 2313, Revenues and appropriations of State; changes to revenues collected and distribution, report.

YEAS: Alexander, Barker, Blevins, Carrico, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, Norment, Northam, Puckett, Puller, Ruff, Saslaw, Stosch, Wagner, Watkins – 25.

NAYS: Black, Ebbin, Garrett, Hanger, Marsh, Martin, McDougle, Newman, Obenshain, Petersen, Reeves, Smith, Stanley, Stuart, Vogel – 15.

— ∮∮∮ —

Original — February 06, 2013

By Whitney Spicer and Alix Hines | Capital News Service

Gov. Bob McDonnell expressed his disgust after his transportation funding package was derailed by Senate Democrats late Tuesday.

Although the House version of the governor’s transportation plan had passed earlier in the day, the Senate Democrats had a different idea. All 20 Democratic senators vowed to vote against the bill, blocking it for this legislative session.

“Rather than engaging in a debate on how to move forward with tackling our transportation problems, it is apparent that the Senate Democrats are once again content to risk our continued economic prosperity and our citizens’ quality of life,” McDonnell said afterward.

McDonnell’s transportation proposal would replace the state’s gasoline tax with a higher sales tax and vehicle registration fees. That was the focus of House Bill 2313 and Senate Bill 1355.

The governor’s hopes were raised when the Republican-controlled House of Delegates passed HB2313, a step toward funding “Virginia’s Road to the Future,” McDonnell’s plan to invest $3 billion in road and transit projects over the next five years.

“Our citizens have told us loud and clear that now is the time to get something done on transportation. They deserve a modern, well-funded transportation system that will get them to work and home on time, without delay,” McDonnell said after the 53-46 vote in the House.

HB2313 would eliminate the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax. At the same time, it would raise the sales tax in Virginia from 5 percent to 5.8 percent. The bill also would raise the registration fee for private vehicles from $33 a year to $48.

Delegates amended HB2313 to delete an additional fee for hybrid car owners and to prohibit tolls on Interstate 95.

House Democrats criticized the legislation.

“It patches potholes instead of dealing with the severe congestion that cost Virginia our coveted ranking as the best state to do business. It eliminates the gas tax and lets snowbirds traveling to Florida for the winter ride free, while seniors shopping at K-Mart pay a bigger sales tax,” said Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax.

In the evenly divided Senate, the Democratic opposition doomed SB1355, raising the specter of a 20-20 tie vote. And because the matter involved revenue, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who presides over the Senate, could not break the tie in the GOP’s favor.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Lynchburg, offered a substitute that would ditch the proposed increases in sales tax and vehicle registration fees. Senate Democrats voted as a whole to scrap that idea as well. They were joined by two Republican senators – Emmett Hanger of Mount Solon and John Watkins of Midlothian.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr., R-James City, criticized Democrats for their refusal to pass SB1355.

“Senate Democrats have been absent throughout the process, and that has been their choice,” Norment said. “Their vote today put an exclamation point on their position regarding transportation: They have no plan other than to say ‘no’ to every plan presented.”

McDonnell echoed Norment’s sentiments.

Democratic senators “chose to vote on strictly partisan lines,” the governor said. “The Democratic caucus repeatedly said no to improving transportation in Virginia.”

The Senate’s vote sent SB1355 back to the Senate Finance Committee. That means it is dead for the session, because Tuesday was the deadline for bills to win approval from their originating chamber.

All is not lost for McDonnell’s plan, however. After clearing the House, HB2313 now moves to the Senate; it has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
McDonnell praised House members for keeping his plan alive.

“Thankfully, their action means a transportation bill is still advancing this session, despite today’s partisan blockade by Democrats in the State Senate. It is now past time that the Senate Democrats support their constituents and get serious about tackling the challenges facing Virginia’s transportation system,” the governor said.

More than 50 business, labor and transportation groups have endorsed McDonnell’s plan. However, it has drawn opposition not only from Democrats but also from some conservative organizations.

For instance, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, issued a statement shortly after the Senate’s rejection of SB1355. He called the action a “victory for Virginia taxpayers.”

“The defeat of SB1355 demonstrates that the state Senate understands that the governor’s transportation proposal was not the best solution to Virginia’s transportation needs,” Norquist said.

photo by Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce

  • error

    Report an error

There is 1 reader comment. Read it.