Virginia transportation bill: Compromise likely, Saslaw says

Gov. Bob McDonnell says without a transportation funding bill, the state\'s most congested areas won\'t see relief. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON – Virginia lawmakers have just two weeks left to strike a compromise on a lone bill that would reform and rejuvenate the state’s transportation funding.

But a move in the House of Delegates Wednesday to derail a power grab by Senate Republicans, who wanted to redraw election maps in their favor, will likely smooth the path to a deal.

One version of the $3 billion proposal from Gov. Bob McDonnell remains. And although Senate Democrats rejected the governor’s plan initially, Minority Leader Dick Saslaw tells WTOP senators will work with the House to modify the legislation and pass a transportation funding bill this session.

“I think there’s a pretty good chance. We’re going to work with the (House) speaker to see if we can’t reach an area of common ground and see if we can’t make this thing happen,” says Saslaw, D-Alexandria.

But Saslaw says any final bill should lack a key piece of the governor’s transportation package: a repeal of the state’s gas tax.

“The gas tax is not going to be repealed,” Saslaw pledged.

Other legislators, including some Republicans, have said they are concerned about eliminating the gas tax because it is user fee, paid for in part by out of state visitors. Increasing the sales tax as McDonnell’s plan would do is considered a regressive tax that would adversely hurt poorer Virginians.

“I hope that they will come to their senses,” McDonnell tells WTOP, referring to Senate Democrats, who threatened to deny Republicans the 21st vote needed to pass key legislation including transportation funding and the state budget over the election map flap.

“If they choose to kill this bill, there will be not be transportation funding to provide relief to the most congested area of the state — Northern Virginia,” McDonnell says.

Money for roads, bridges and commuter trains, including Phase 2 of Metro’s Silver Line project, would be in jeopardy if lawmakers don’t come up with a solution.

Virginia is running out of cash available to maintain the state’s highways and local roads and has few options other than tolls to pay for new infrastructure like bridges, tunnels and interstate lanes.

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WTOP’s Hank Silverberg and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @hsilverbergWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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