Not only did the 2013 session of the General Assembly end on time last Saturday, but it also ended on a high note.
Having sat through a couple of decades of failed efforts to pass meaningful legislation addressing our transportation needs, I was not optimistic that we would be successful this year. The Governor’s proposal to fix a billion-dollar problem with a revenue-neutral solution did not give me much hope.
I was both amazed and delighted when the House passed a transportation funding bill by a vote of 60 to 40 that provides new revenue to meet road and transit needs. In addition to providing new money, the bill also addresses other problems by switching the gas tax from a per gallon amount to a percentage to help it keep up with future needs. The bill also provides for additional monies to be raised in Northern Virginia and spent in our region. While the bill will not totally resolve our transportation congestion, it does provide money for mass transit and $300 million towards the cost of the Silver Line that will help to keep the tolls down.
There are aspects of the omnibus transportation compromise that I do not like. The charging of a $100 per year fee for hybrid vehicles—because their fuel efficiency reduces the gas tax collected on them—is in conflict with policies we should be adopting to encourage the use of such cars. The planned reliance on the tax on internet sales that has yet to be passed by the U.S. Congress is open to question although there is a mechanism for making up for lost funds if the tax is not enacted.
Equaling the transportation bill in importance was a compromise approved in the closing hours of the session that opens the way for the expansion of the Medicaid program in Virginia to provide insurance for about 400,000 individuals. Governor McDonnell had opposed passage of the Affordable Care Act and had refused to go along with accepting an expanded Medicaid program until reforms were put into place.
The compromise bill establishes a joint committee of legislators who will approve Virginia’s entry into the program as soon as certain reforms are made. It is expected that the state could enter the program as soon as the summer. Thanks to the many persons who called and wrote to the conferees and the Governor; your voice did make a difference.
As is the case with most legislation, the final results are compromises. What was reassuring about this session that I had not seen in recent years was a willingness on the part of the majority to compromise with those of us in the minority. That made for an outcome that was better for everyone. I will be writing about other outcomes of the session in future columns and will be holding public meetings to report back to you.