RICHMOND, Va. – For more than a decade, finding a stable way to collect money to pay for roads and rail has eluded Virginia’s General Assembly. This week could be a milestone in that effort or another failure.
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s $3.1 billion transportation bill will be debated in both the House and Senate but it’s clear from committee discussions there is strong opposition to much of it.
At the center of the plan is the elimination of the state’s 17.5 cent gas tax which would be replaced by a hike in the state sales tax from 5 to 5.8 percent.
The plan also includes a controversial $100 a year fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
Democrats in the state senate, which is split 20-20 between the two parties, have been the strongest in their opposition.
At a Finance Committee hearing, Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw called it “putting a mink on a pig.”
Senator Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who also voted no at the committee level, says there are several reasons to oppose the bill.
“I think getting rid of the gas tax is a very poor idea,” says Howell. “It’s a user fee paid by more than 25 percent by people from out of state who would not be paying the sales tax.”
She says removing the gas tax will harm people who don’t even own a car because they will have to pay the higher sales tax.
Even some of those who support the idea of the plan are not happy with it. Republican Senator Emmett Hanger representing Augusta says he does not like eliminating the gas tax either.
“I also do not support the direct fees which are taxes which i think are regressive in nature,” he says referring to the fee on alternative fuel vehicles.
In testimony before the Senate Finance committee, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton indicated that passage of the plan will eliminate the necessity for putting tolls on I-95 which has also sparked strong opposition.
Debate in the House of Delegates is scheduled for Monday.