RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding bill cleared another legislative hurdle Wednesday, getting bipartisan support on the House Finance Committee.
The panel advanced McDonnell’s transportation package on a 14-8 vote after administration officials proposed minor changes to the multifaceted legislation. The bill now goes to the full House of Delegates.
Even if the House passes the bill (House Bill 2313), as expected, administration officials and House Republican leaders said details of the package likely will change in negotiations with the politically-divided Senate.The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take up the Senate version of McDonnell’s proposal Thursday.
“This first vote clearly demonstrates a growing, and bipartisan, consensus that transportation is a core function of government and our investments in building and maintaining our highways, transit systems and railroads is of utmost importance to the citizens of Virginia,” McDonnell said in a statement after the House committee vote.
McDonnell said the complete package, which he unveiled on the eve of the General Assembly session, could generate more than $3.1 billion in additional transportation funding over the next five years. McDonnell has said he is willing to negotiate on some elements of his proposal. The administration indicated today that it could back away from plans to put tolls on Interstate 95 in Sussex County if the bill passes.
Among other things, the plan could generate $102 million to extend passenger rail service to Roanoke and $47.1 million to replace an Interstate 81 bridge over the New River in Montgomery County, McDonnell said last week.
The governor’s proposal would eliminate the state gasoline tax and increase the retail sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent, with all of the revenue from the sales tax increase dedicated to transportation. The plan also would increase vehicle registration fees, impose a $100 annual fee on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles, and shift revenue from the state’s general fund to provide more dollars for roads, rail and transit.
McDonnell proposed scrapping the state’s 17.5 cents per-gallon excise tax on gasoline and replacing it with a higher retails sales tax, asserting that the buying power of the gas tax has been weakened by inflation and the proliferation of fuel efficient vehicles.
“It’s a bold move, but a needed move,” said House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, the lead House sponsor of McDonnell’s bill.
The state still would levy a 17.5 cents per-gallon tax on diesel fuel to get heavy truck operators to pay for the deterioration their vehicles cause to interstate highways. But the administration agreed to a change Wednesday that would allow owners of diesel-fueled passenger vehicles to receive rebates for their fuel expenses.
About one third of the total revenue in McDonnell’s plan depends on Congress passing the Marketplace Equity Act, a bill that would give states greater ability to compel online retailers to collect state sales taxes. McDonnell projects that Virginia could collect $1.02 billion for transportation over five years if the act is passed.
Ten Republicans and four Democrats on the Finance Committee voted to advance the bill Wednesday, though some members said they hope to improve the bill as it goes through the legislative process.
– Michael Sluss