Transportation deal approved in Virginia

| 4/17/2007

The Virginia General Assembly signed off on a transportation fix with which some hope voters will be satisfied. Despite the accomplishment that has been a couple of years in the making, even supporters of the plan say it’s inadequate.

The legislature agreed to Gov. Tim Kaine’s revisions to their long-term road-building plan in what is widely regarded as an election-year remedy. House lawmakers voted 85-15 to endorse the plan during a one-day veto session. The Senate backed it with a 29-10 vote.

Of particular interest to truckers, the legislation includes provisions to boost penalties for overweight trucks and heavy truck registration fees. It also increases the state’s 16-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel to 17.5 cents.

Kaine preserved key elements of the GOP-authored transportation package. The compromise allows for the issuing of $3 billion in bonds for various transportation projects. Republicans initially had sought $2.5 billion.

Despite apprehensions from Kaine and fellow Democrats to the use of money normally reserved for such services as education and health care, the governor kept a provision in the bill – HB3202 – that allows access to the general fund account to pay off the road bonds.

Kaine said concessions on general fund spending were difficult to make but necessary to reach a deal.

Other elements of the plan rely on higher fines for the state’s worst drivers, tolls, tax and fee increases, surplus money and possible regional taxing authorities for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Some critics of the agreed-upon plan say it is only temporary. They plan to make changes to it once the new legislature gathers in January 2008.