RICHMOND (AP) -- Virginia's House of Delegates voted 60-40 Friday to approve what would become the first major reform in a generation of the state's system for financing its highway network.
If the Senate follows suit, the legislation will be in front of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who put transportation at the forefront of his policy agenda and has staked his legacy on its passage.The bill would replace Virginia's 17 1/2 cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gasoline and a 6 percent levy on diesel fuel.
The bill also would boost statewide sales taxes from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and use more of the existing sales tax, increase the titling tax on car sales and add a $100 fee to the purchase of fuel-sipping hybrid vehicles.
The key to the bill's House passage was overwhelming support from Democrats: 25 supported the bill and only seven opposed it. Republicans, who control more than two-thirds of the House's 100 seats, were almost evenly split, with 33 anti-tax Republicans opposing it and 34 Republicans supporting it along with the chamber's only independent, Del. Lacey Putney, who organizes with the GOP.
Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, called it a massive tax increase that would negate any economic benefit from upgrading and maintaining the state's 58,000-mile web of roads and alleviate urban gridlock.
"I hear my colleagues say, `We've got to do something, we've got to do something.' Well, this bill does something, but I will tell you that it is the wrong thing," Cline said. "See what happens when we raise just about every tax dealing with transportation and some others that don't deal with transportation and see what happens to our business rankings and our business reputation."
The bipartisan vote, however, exposed an undercurrent of regional differences attendant to every transportation funding debate over the past dozen years.
Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, suggested the formula for allocating statewide transportation revenue to different regions, unchanged since the early 20th century, was outmoded. He said it shortchanged burgeoning suburbs such as his own, subsidized rural localities and should be reconsidered.
A rural Republican, Del. Terry Kilgore of Scott County, noted Marshall's comment.
"What did he just tell you? How was he going to get the money to fund roads in Northern Virginia? He was going to get them from me. He was going to get them from my friends in the rural area. He was going to get them from the Shenandoah Valley by changing the transportation formula, by changing the membership on the CTB (Commonwealth Transportation Board)," Kilgore said.
The outcome was assured, however, when one Democrat after another blessed the compromise.
"There are times when you have to look beyond yourself and look at the whole, and that's what governing is. That's why you're down here. Yes, you're down here to protect your individual piece of the pie, but the puzzle doesn't work `til you put it all together," said Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke and the lone House Democrat on the team of five delegates and five senators who brokered the compromise over four days of negotiations.