(Correction: This post initially reported the Roanoke Del. Onzlee Ware was one of five Democrats to vote for the transportation bill. Four House Democrats voted for the measure.)
The House of Delegates passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding bill this morning, with four Democrats casting key votes to keep the Republican governor’s signature legislative initiative alive.
By a vote of 53-46, the House passed a bill (House Bill 2313) that would eliminate the state’s gasoline tax, increase the retail sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent and increase vehicle registration fees by $15 annually. If enacted, the legislation could generate more than $3 billion over five years for roads and transit.
Four Democrats, including Del. Onzlee Ware of Roanoke, delivered key votes that helped the bill get through the Republican-dominated House. Eighteen Republicans voted against the measure.
Ware said he didn’t like every aspect of the transportation bill, which could generate funding to extend passenger rail service to Roanoke.
“I don’t like the bill; I get a train out of it,” Ware said, drawing laughs from his colleagues. “We’re so conditioned to taking crumbs that the train is a good idea.”
But Ware, like some Republicans who voted for the package, said it was important to keep a bill alive to negotiate with the Senate. The Senate will vote on its own version of the transportation bill this afternoon.
“I always tell people it’s easy to do nothing because you don’t have to think, just say no,” Ware said.
Republicans Greg Habeeb of Salem, Chris Head of Botetourt County, Charles Poindexter of Franklin County and Joseph Yost of Blacksburg voted for the bill, as did independent Lacey Putney of Bedford. Republicans Nick Rush of Christiansburg, Ben Cline of Rockbridge County, Kathy Byron of Bedford County and Anne Crockett-Stark of Wytheville voted against the bill.
The action on transportation now shift to the evenly divided Senate. The Senate sponsor of McDonnell’s plan, Republican Steve Newman of Lynchburg, unveiled a revised plan yesterday that would drop the proposed sales tax increase and replace it with 5.5 percent tax on the wholesale price of gasoline.
McDonnell this morning prodded Senate Democrats to pass the bill and allow the Senate to negotiate a compromise with the House.
“The time for delay and fingerpointing and excuses is over,” McDonnell told reporters.
– Michael Sluss