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Gas tax hike back in debate in Virginia

Tuesday - 2/21/2012, 8:50am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The possibility of a gas tax hike comes up every year a budget debate in Virginia centers on funding transportation, it seems. It's happening again this year -- sort of.

The version approved by the Virginia Senate Finance Committee would index the gas tax with inflation, meaning it would go up slowly, tied to the inflation rate, above the current 17-cent tax.

Delegate Bob Brink, D-Fairfax, says it is a viable option for raising transportation money.

"We're really reaching a crisis point both in Northern Virginia and across the state. We don't have enough money to spend," Brink says.

This kind of additional fee faces an uphill climb against the budget approved by the Virginia House Appropriations Committee that does not include any kind of a tax increase.

Delegate Thomas "Tag" Greason, R-Loudoun, says he doubts gas tax indexing will be approved by the legislature.

"Raising taxes, which was the strategy on the Senate side, I don't think is the right approach and that is going to be a point of contention," Greason says.

Greason wants to see the state move any surplus in the state budget from the general fund to pay for transportation maintenance.

But Brink says that takes money away from other programs.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has his own version of the two-year, $85 billion budget. It does not include gas tax indexing but does include some fee hikes. The House version eliminated those fee hikes.

House and Senate negotiators have until the end of the session on March 10 to sort out the tax issue.

Across the Potomac in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to phase in a 6 percent sales tax on gas purchases over the next three years. That would equal an extra 18 cents per gallon on top of the current 23 cents per gallon tax.

The Examiner reports the tax eventually would cost two-car families roughly $400 a year.

Three out of four Marylanders oppose even a 10-cent hike, while O'Malley says the tax will create thousands of construction jobs by freeing up money for transportation projects.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)