Roanoke Del. Onzlee Ware will have a seat at the table as negotiators from the House of Delegates and state Senate try to hammer out a compromise transportation funding bill.
House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, appointed Ware and four Republican delegates to the House conference committee that will work to reconcile differences with the Senate on the transportation funding bill.
Ware, a Democrat, is the only Southwest Virginia legislator on either negotiating team. Ware said an interview that he hopes to represent the region’s perspective in the negotiations, but will be looking for a statewide funding solution. The House and Senate plans, like the proposal Gov. Bob McDonnell outlined last month, would include funds to extend passenger rail service to Roanoke.
“I do think that this is the best opportunity in the 10 years I’ve been down here to get a transportation bill,” Ware said. “I’m not going in with any preconceived idea other than there needs to be a sustainable funding source. My goal is to come out with the best transportation bill I can possibly get.”
The House version of the bill (HB 2313) closely resembles the plan Gov. Bob McDonnell unveiled last month. It would eliminate the state’s 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, increase the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent, and increase vehicle registration fees to generate revenue for roads, rail and transit.
The Senate’s alternative would increase the state excise tax on gasoline tax by 5 cents per gallon, impose a 1 percent tax on the wholesale price of gas, and increase vehicle registration fees. The House plan would generate about $3.1 billion over five years; the Senate plan would produce $4.5 billion over the same period.
The House negotiators are Ware and Republicans Dave Albo of Fairfax County, Chris Jones of Suffolk, John O’Bannon of Henrico County and Beverly Sherwood of Winchester. The Senate negotiators are Republicans Tommy Norment of James City County, Walter Stosch of Henrico County, Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and John Watkins of Powhatan County; and Democrat Janet Howell of Fairfax County.
Ware is one of only four Democrats who voted for the House version of the transportation bill. Asked if that’s why he was appointed to the conference committee, Ware said: “ I haven’t asked the speaker, but that’s a reasonable assumption.”
– Michael Sluss