Virginia Senate OKs transportation plan

| 2/17/2006

Virginia senators are looking to truckers, bad drivers and others to help bail out cash-strapped roads and transit in the state.

The state Senate voted 34-6 Friday, Feb. 17, to approve a $1 billion transportation funding plan that would impose higher fees for registering vehicles, particularly large trucks, increase taxes on vehicle sales, and on gasoline and diesel sales. It also would refund the payments of fuel taxes to those who save pump receipts for their personal vehicles.

The package would bring in $4 billion in the next four years to fund backlogged transportation projects and ease gridlock, The Associated Press reported.

It is the most expensive of three competing plans offered by lawmakers to pay for roads and transit in the state.

Gov. Tim Kaine’s plan would generate $3.7 billion over four years, through a combination of tax and fee increases. A plan backed by House Republicans would raise $2 billion over four years, relying on borrowing and increased fines for driving offenses.

Among the major funding provisions in the Senate package is boosting the per gallon tax on diesel from 16 cents to 17.5 cents, generating $20 million annually, The AP reported.

It would double registration fees on vehicles at least 10,000 pounds based on weight, estimated to bring in $95 million a year.

The effort also would raise the motor vehicle sales tax from 3 percent to 3.75 percent over the next three years.

It also would impose higher fines on drivers convicted of serious traffic offenses. Persistent abusive drivers would see significantly higher fines, bringing in more than $48 million annually.

In addition, the Senate plan would remove the sales tax exemption on fuel – including diesel – effectively increasing the tax by 5 cents on the dollar and generating $380 million a year.

About $114 million annually would be set aside to pay for mass transit projects while roads would claim $663 million. Another $210 million a year would go to localities to address regional transportation needs.

The biggest perk for consumers is a rebate program for fuel purchased for personal vehicles. Consumers could send their gas receipts to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get back a refund check worth $5 for every $100 spent on fuel.

The Senate bill – SB708 – has moved to the House where it will face a tough road because Republicans in the chamber oppose a tax increase of any kind for transportation.