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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
the free lance-star
RICHMOND--Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plan failed to get enough support to pass in the Senate Tuesday, putting the chances of road funding reform this session in serious doubt.
The House narrowly passed its own version of the bill, meaning the issue is still alive. But with three weeks left in the session, it's unclear how legislators can craft a bill to appease both Senate Democrats--who don't think the tax increases proposed by Republicans raise enough money--and Republicans, who are leery of any tax increase.
The Senate shot down two proposed substitutes to McDonnell's bill, both of which would have applied a sales tax to gas instead of the existing cents-per-gallon tax. It then sent McDonnell's bill back to committee, rather than take a roll-call vote on it.
Both substitutes were efforts to keep the gas tax as a user fee--many lawmakers disliked removing the tax on gas entirely, as McDonnell proposed.
Sen. Frank Wagner's amendment--which would have, among other things, put an 8 percent sales tax on gas--also eliminated the use of general fund money for transportation, a proposal Democrats hated.
But Democrats said it still didn't generate enough money to fully pay for road needs, which infuriated Wagner into an impassioned floor speech, complaining that Democrats hadn't submitted floor amendments to make the bill more to their liking.
"I had hoped for and expected a debate, competing ideas in a 20-20 Senate. And what I find is, this isn't good enough," said Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. "I'm sorry, it's a billion dollars. If you want more, put a floor amendment on it. Pass this and put a floor amendment on it. I'll stay here till the sun comes over I'm here tonight to get a transportation bill passed. Not to set up a campaign for somebody else. Not to do that. I don't want to hear it. This is the bill, this is the time, let's take the vote."
Wagner's proposal got only seven votes.
While all Democrats voted against both amendments, two Republicans--Sen. Emmett Hanger and Sen. John Watkins--also voted against one from Sen. Steve Newman.
McDonnell, though, blamed Democrats.