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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND--Both houses of the General Assembly will vote today on a transportation bill, and already it's clear that it will look different from the plan Gov. Bob McDonnell introduced--and might retain some form of tax on gas.
The House of Delegates Monday night made minor changes to the bill, removing fees for alternative-fuel vehicles and adding language barring the Virginia Department of Transportation from spending money to put tolls on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg.
Several delegates said there's no chance of tolls being allowed north of Fredericksburg.
In the Senate, an amendment surfaced from the bill's own sponsor, making more drastic changes.
The amendment from Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, would apply a 5.5 percent sales tax on gas, replacing the current 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax. It removes McDonnell's proposed increase in the overall sales tax and the higher vehicle registration fees he had included in his bill.
Sen. Richard Stuart,
"I think it's important that it's simple, there's a nexus to gas," Stuart said. "I really think this is something a lot of people can get behind."
The amendment is being billed around the Capitol as a conservative alternative, and it has the backing of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
In a written statement, Cuccinelli said that Newman is "advancing an alternative that I believe has the best chance to get the votes needed to make improvements to Virginia's transportation system."
"The proposed sales tax on gasoline will replace a gas tax that is no longer the best means of raising revenue for transportation," Cuccinelli said.
He makes the same argument as McDonnell--that with more fuel-efficient vehicles, the flat-rate gas tax is not bringing in enough revenue to keep pace with road needs.
"The proposed sales tax, in contrast, will track up with inflation. I am comfortable with this proposal setting the current sales tax rate on gasoline at a revenue-neutral level," Cuccinelli said.
But shifting McDonnell's own bill to a sales tax on gas will have difficulty getting out of the Senate when the bill is debated today.
Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, scoffed at the amendment on Monday. He predicted that no Democrats would vote for the bill or the amendment, and that some Republicans won't either.