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To fund transportation, House panel OKs McDonnell's proposal to scrap Virginia gasoline tax, increase sales tax, hike vehicle-registration fees
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--Gov. Bob McDonnell's version of a transportation funding reform bill cleared its first official hurdle Wednesday, passing relatively unscathed out of the House Finance Committee.
But lawmakers say they're essentially trying to move a bill out of the House and Senate by today's deadline, and that the meat of hashing out a compromise--which could look far different from the governor's proposal--will take place in weeks to come in a conference committee.
The House committee passed McDonnell's bill--sponsored by House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford--on a bipartisan 14-8 vote.
The Senate still hasn't voted on its version, but will today.
The House committee's vote came after a Northern Virginia Democrat warned members that the bill doesn't provide nearly enough funding to help ease congested Northern Virginia's needs.
"Addressing the urban crescent's needs are not only fair play but essential to our economy," said Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, a former state secretary of transportation.
She said Virginia's road system needs more than $1 billion in new revenue per year for construction, and if legislators pass a bill that primarily addresses making up a shortfall in the road maintenance budget, the impetus to go further will be lost.
"It is worse than doing nothing," Watts said.
She had her own proposals for reforming transportation funding, including a sales tax on gasoline. Other Republicans, too, had ideas that differ from the governor's bill.
Alternative ideas will be considered when the bill eventually goes into a conference committee made up of delegates and senators.
"We know the real work will be done in conference," said Del. Rich Anderson, R-Prince William, who had proposed amendments that would index the gas tax to inflation and make other tax adjustments.
Howell made a rare appearance before a committee, advocating for McDonnell's bill.
"This is sort of a moment in time when we have an opportunity" to pass transportation reform that is "far-reaching and bold," Howell said.
McDonnell's plan would eliminate the state tax on gasoline, raise the sales tax, and raise registration fees for regular vehicles and alternative-fuel vehicles.
He has been pushing it hard, enlisting endorsements from business and other groups around the state, putting up a website, and commissioning an economic study of its ramifications.