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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--If all you read was the governor's press releases, you might think passage of his transportation funding bill was a fait accompli.
Gov. Bob McDonnell's press office has been busy churning out announcements every time some business or transportation group gets behind the bill.
But in the halls of the General Assembly, among the people who will actually vote on the bill, strong support is harder to find. In fact, if the governor's proposal were up for a vote today, it probably would not have the votes to pass.
That's not to say that legislators aren't willing to talk about it, or work toward passing legislation that would increase transportation money--somehow. But they're not ready to coalesce behind McDonnell's specific proposals, preferring to call his plan a good starting point rather than a done deal.
McDonnell's bill eliminates the state's 17.5-cent gas tax, replaces it by raising the statewide sales tax, shifts a portion of general fund revenue to transportation and increases fees for vehicle registration and for alternative-fuel vehicles.
That's enough moving pieces to anger just about every faction in the General Assembly.
Conservatives don't like the tax increase. Democrats don't like taking money from the general fund, which also pays for education, public safety and other programs.
Some Republicans don't like the idea of getting rid of the gas tax, which they call a "user fee" and which is more likely than the sales tax to be paid by out-of-state drivers. They're joined by some Democrats who don't want poor people who rely on public transportation to pay for roads they don't use every time they buy something.
McDonnell's hope when he proposed the plan was that it had something to please and displease everyone, which is how a legislature defines "compromise."
"The beauty of this plan is that nobody loves it, and nobody hates it," said Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Yorktown, in a floor speech praising McDonnell's plan.
But just about everybody plans on changing it in some way.
LOTS OF BILLS TO CONSIDER
Some lawmakers say they shouldn't get rid of the gas tax entirely, but instead apply the sales tax to gasoline. Many don't like McDonnell's proposed vehicle fee increases.
Some have filed transportation funding bills of their own--27 total, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, although most are not the full-scale overhaul that McDonnell proposes.