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VA Senate Approves Transportation Deal

Vienna-area Sen. Janet Howell calls compromise — expected to raise $880 million a year for roads and mass transit —"truly the best we're going to get."

By Stephen Nielsen • Capital News Service

A divided Virginia Senate on Saturday passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature issue of the 2013 legislative session – a bill to overhaul the state’s system for funding transportation.

Just hours before the session’s end, the Senate voted 25-15 for House Bill 2313, which will raise about $880 million a year more for roads and mass transit by increasing sales taxes while lowering the fuels tax.

The debate over how to increase revenue continued right up to the vote.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) supported the legislation.

“This isn’t any bill. This is the only bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg. He said it’s the only way to provide the revenue Virginia’s transportation system needs – and to ease traffic congestion in Northern Virginia and Tidewater.

HB 2313, which was negotiated by a conference committee and approved 60-40 by the House on Friday, would:

  • Eliminate the 17.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax that consumers pay at the pump. Instead, the state would impose a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. The wholesale tax on diesel fuel would be 6 percent.
  • Increase Virginia’s sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent.
  • Raise the motor vehicle sales tax from 3 percent to 4.3 percent.
  • Charge a $100 annual license tax for electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Allow a 0.7 percent sales tax increase in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to fund transportation projects there.

HB 2313 also would boost the proportion of the state’s general fund revenue dedicated to transportation from 0.5 percent to 0.675 percent. And it would prohibit tolls on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg without approval from the General Assembly.

“This is truly the best we’re going to get,” Howell said. 

Other senators echoed that sentiment.

“Do I feel like we have anyone in this body that can make a perfect plan? No,” Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Galax) said. But he said the transportation plan was close enough and a product of a great deal of compromise between parties.

Others disagreed.

“To me, the final bill represents bad economics and bad transportation policy,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who believes the state should raise its gasoline tax to address the problems.

A dozen Republican senators and three Democrats voted against the bill.

“I don’t agree with having different tax rates in different parts of the commonwealth,” Petersen said.

“Having a regional tax in Northern Virginia – that means my constituents are going to have a surcharge on all their consumer goods, just for living in that one part of the state. I don’t see the fairness in that, so I voted no," Petersen said.

HB 2313 now goes to McDonnell for his signature.

In a press release, the governor said "the annals of history will recognize this session as the year that vital transportation funding reforms, substantively ignored since 1986, were enacted to address the decades-old issues that have left Virginia unable to maintain our existing road, rail and transit infrastructure and unable to pay for needed new transportation services.”

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How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Saturday on HB 2313 (“Revenues and appropriations of State; changes to revenues collected and distribution, report”).

Floor: 02/23/13 Senate: Conference report agreed to by Senate (25-Y 15-N)

YEAS – Alexander, Barker, Blevins, Carrico, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, Norment, Northam, Puckett, Puller, Ruff, Saslaw, Stosch, Wagner, Watkins – 25.

NAYS – Black, Ebbin, Garrett, Hanger, Marsh, Martin, McDougle, Newman, Obenshain, Petersen, Reeves, Smith, Stanley, Stuart, Vogel – 15.

See also:

Conference Panel Will Seek Transportation Compromise

McDonnell Calls on Senate to Pass Roads Funding

Governor’s Transportation Plan Hits Roadblock

McDonnell's Transportation Bill Moves Forward

Speak Out: Will McDonnell's Tax Plan Help Virginia?

Marc Lieberman February 24, 2013 at 04:30 PM
I'm glad to see more money for transportation, but you know dropping the 17.5 cent gas tax will result in about a 2-3 cent drop at the pump since the gas companies will just see this as an opportunity to make more money. And penalizing hybrid owners for doing the responsible thing to protect the environment, when they already paid more for their cars in the first place?
FG February 24, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Totally agree on both counts. I would have preferred to keep the gas tax and expand on it. Surprised the GOP was against it as it constitutes a "flat tax" - it taxes everyone at the same rate.
Tammi Petrine February 24, 2013 at 08:01 PM
What a stupid bill! Why drop a tax that every other state has? You senators who voted for it may just as well have sent an engraved invitation to organized and dis-organized crime to buy gas in VA and sell it in other states like VA tobacco. Sheesh! And to penalize intelligent, ecologically sensitive consumers for buying eco-friendly vehicles? That is the height of irresponsibility and idiocy. Mercifully this governor can not be re-elected! May the next one ditch this obscene scheme and get N. VA the common sense solution that will effectively help solve our transportation challenges for they are many and they are crippling the breadbasket of the Commonwealth...
Michael February 25, 2013 at 02:11 AM
I agree that dropping the retail gas tax was the height of stupidity, although for slightly different reasons. There will still be a gas tax, but hidden at the wholesale level - Marc's analysis is not quite right. It's true that the price won't go down much, but that's because our legislators have decided to hide the tax at the retail level. The only good side to that is, it's a percent instead of per-gallon, so at least it track the price of gas. I would have preferred the intellectual honesty of an indexed retail-level gas tax. It makes perfect sense to have a fee on hybrid/electric owners because they contribute equally to congestion and roadwear, but don't contribute the same in gas tax (whether taxed at wholesale or retail makes no difference in this case). This is simply an attempt to recover their fair share of costs for maintenance and construction, which they do not pay because they buy substantially less gas per mile traveled. Tammi, buying and reselling gasoline would be considerably more complicated than cigarettes, which come in neat packaging. Can you imagine the attention one would draw if filling up that much at the pump? Do you envision tankers pulling up to the local Sunoco and making off with their gas? I don't really see how that scenario could possibly play out. Even if they bought it from distributors, they would pay the wholesale tax, so that argument just doesn't hold water.
Nick Branch February 25, 2013 at 08:18 AM
No one wants to talk about the 100 charge for having a car that uses less gas? Ha, thats like charging someone for not smoking as much as the average smoker. They just arent buying their cigs as often or as much as they should.
Chipperson February 25, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Reston - your liberal democrat rep that you just relected voted for this bill that hurts your hybrids. Thought you all were on the same pages about raising taxes etc. how can you be upset when you elected her?
Gavin Wright February 25, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Gas powered, electric, or hybrid, all vehicles use the road, and hence cause wear on the road. Roads which are cared for by transportation funds. Snow plows, salt trucks, safety patrols, ALL vehicles benefit from these services. Historically, transportation funds have been tied to gas consumption, however with the growth of electric and higher mpg vehicles these funds are diminishing. Lower income and more vehicles is not a good mix. The government is trying to find a better way to raise transportation funds, and while these proposal might not be the most effective solution at least they recognize a problem and are trying to address it so future generations don't have to clean up our mess.
FG February 25, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Ah, so you're one of those "proud slaves" to their parties that fears even the idea of criticizing them. You do realize that you shoot yourself in the foot by being afraid to criticize anyone that needs criticizing, regardless of party, don't you? Oh, right. They forget to tell people that all the time. Well, good luck with that!
FG February 25, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Gavin - yes, true, and also true of every other car on the road that didn't get the $100 extra fee.
FG February 25, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Wait - I take it back. Gavin, I see your point about consumption of gas being tied to the transportation funds, and it's a good one.
Ronald Robertson February 25, 2013 at 10:36 PM
The government giveth and the government taketh away and if they think they will get our blessing they are crazy as hell. We will see them at the ballet box. Ron Robertson

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