VA Lawmakers Work toward Middle Ground on Transportation

Posted: Updated: Jan 28, 2013 09:13 PM EST

Lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates say working across the aisle will be the only way to solve the state's transportation funding problem. But some fundamental disagreements will make compromise difficult.

House Democrats announced their support for a variety of transportation funding bills. Those include bipartisan proposals to raise the state's gasoline tax by establishing a 5 percent wholesale tax. That flies in the face of Governor Bob McDonnell's transportation plan to eliminate the state's fixed 17.5 cent gas tax in favor of raising the sales tax to 5.8 percent (all of the 0.8 percent hike would go to transportation projects).

McDonnell argues his plan would provide more long-term growth for transportation funding. The buying power of the gas tax is diminishing, he argues, as vehicles become more fuel efficient. But Democrats say the governor's proposal to raise the sales tax on items excluding food and fuel places an unfair burden on consumers in the commonwealth, some of whom might not even use roads.

Democrats want a final transportation plan to include support for urban areas to independently raise their own fund for transportation projects. They have also long opposed the governor's suggestion of using more general fund revenue for transportation.

But despite disagreement on some key components, lawmakers say they are ready to reach some middle ground on such an important issue.

"We fully support a bipartisan approach to this problem," said House Minority Leader Delegate David Toscano. "We don't think we can solve this without a bipartisan approach."

Transportation legislation is expected to come before finance committees in both the House and Senate this week.

Virginia House Democratic Caucus


RICHMOND- Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates announced their support for bipartisan approaches that address the Commonwealth's pressing transportation needs.

Democratic House Leader David J. Toscano (D- Charlottesville) and Delegates Vivian Watts (D- Fairfax), Matthew James (D- Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Ken Plum (D- Fairfax), speaking on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, today proposed a solution based on the following principles:

1. It must generate at least $1 billion in new money per year.
2. It should rely on a realistic, dependable source of revenue, based on our actions, not those of the Congress.
3. It should not transfer monies that otherwise fund schools, health care and public safety.
4. It must fund not just maintenance, but construction, rail and transit.
5. It must provide additional revenue both immediately and into the future.
6. It must give authority to Northern Virginia & Hampton Roads to raise additional funds for their own transportation needs.

Specific measures, contained in both Republican and Democratic bills, that the House Democratic Caucus supports, include:

1. A 5% wholesale gas tax (contained in HB1677, HB1878, HB2063, HB2179, HB2253 and HB2333). 2. Allowing urban areas to raise transportation funds (HB1450, HB1472, HB1633, HB2063, HB2253, and HB 2333).

Delegate Vivian Watts, former Secretary of Transportation, emphasized the importance of raising enough funds to address not just maintenance but new construction, rail and transit. "Our reading of the Governor's proposal gives us serious concern about how much additional funds, if any, would be available for new construction and transit in his proposal. We believe the only viable answer must include a 5% wholesale gas tax" she said.

House Democratic Leader Delegate David Toscano, the Democratic Leader in the House of Delegates, concluded "The Governor has proposed a plan, and realizes that new revenues are needed to solve the problem. If we take the best of his plan and combine it with other Republican and Democratic proposals, we can produce something significant and long-lasting for Virginia's businesses and families."

Delegate Matthew James (D- Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Delegate Ken Plum (D- Fairfax) spoke about the need to work in a bipartisan fashion and highlighted Republican proposals that have broad support in the House Democratic caucus.

"To fix our transportation gridlock, we need to fix the political gridlock that has prevented us from coming together and enacting real solutions. Allowing local jurisdictions to raise additional revenue to advance critical infrastructure projects is a sound idea and is more effective than Richmond making decisions for impacted communities," said Delegate Matthew James. "We need adopt the best solutions, irrespective of Party, irrespective of the politics."

"There are several Republican and Democratic measures that would raise additional revenue from those who use the Commonwealth's transit system for personal or commercial purposes and would not burden citizens who make minimal use of the transportation system," said Delegate Ken Plum. "The people of the Commonwealth have made it clear that they want a resolution to the transportation problem this year. They have also made it clear that they don't care which political party gets the credit, or who wins or loses, and expect a bi-partisan effort to achieve real solutions."