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Disagreements Over McDonnell'sTransporation Plan Arise in Senate - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Disagreements Over Gov. McDonnell's Transportation Plan Arise in Senate

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The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce is putting its general support behind the governor's transportation proposal - a move that comes as partisan disagreements in Richmond threaten to derail progress on the issue.

Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan,"Virginia's Road To The Future,"  came before a Senate committee for the first time Wednesday. Democrats and Republicans made it clear compromise won't be easy.

"This may be one of our last opportunities to get something meaningful done for the next five years or so," said Sen. Stephen Newman, the bill's sponsor in the Senate.

"I just have some real reservations," Sen. Donald Marsden said.

The Governor's plan would raise new revenue for transportation by lifting the state's sales tax almost a tenth of a percentage point to 5.8 percent. That 0.8 percent increase would be dedicated to funding transportation maintenance and construction projects. In turn, the governor wants to do away with the state's existing 17.5 cent gas tax. He has also proposed increasing vehicle registration fees, and tacking on additional fees for drivers of fuel efficient vehicles.

Many lawmakers have said they see the governor's plan as a jumping off point into a larger discussion. But renewed tension along party lines this week, exacerbated by a surprise move by Senate Republicans quick push Monday to redraw district lines, could make finding a bipartisan compromise more difficult.

"It basically jeopardized our ability to get anything done this session," said Senator Creigh Deeds (D) 25th District .

"The people of the commonwealth should not end up being negatively impacted by some of these partisan issues," said Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.

The disagreement is bad news for supporters of McDonnell's proposal, like the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"We're hoping the plan can be achieved," Chamber President Timothy Hulbert said.

Business leaders say transportation reform is an important factor in making Virginia attractive to new business, and will help retain existing business. CNBC dropped Virginia from first to third place in 2012 in its "Best States To Do Business Poll," largely due to transportation infrastructure issues.

Before progress can be made on what virtually everyone considers one of the top issues this session, lawmakers have to find some common ground.

The sticking point for Democrats is the governor's proposal to get rid of the gas tax altogether. They argue the burden for building roads will be placed disproportionately on the shoulders of everyday consumers, and not those who use roads the most. Republicans counter, saying the buying power of the state's gas tax is compromised by inflation and higher fuel efficiency standards.

If progress is going to be made, it's going to take give and take from both sides. And for that, the governor's administration is appealing to something that united lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. As Sec. Connaughton said, "It's not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is a Virginian issue."

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