Transportation funding pieces don't fit in Virginia

| 10/9/2006

Virginia lawmakers adjourned their recently completed special session on transportation without accomplishing much of anything.

Among the efforts that failed to gain passage during the legislators’ two days of work was legislation that included using tolls, taxes and other fees to pay for road and bridge work.

Problems stem from Republican leaders in the House and Senate who haven’t been able to reach agreement on funding. Senate leaders say new revenue, including a fuel tax increase, are needed to address congestion and maintenance costs, while House leaders are vehemently opposed to higher taxes and fees.

The final straw came when a Senate panel rejected the bulk of a $2.4 billion House transportation plan that relied heavily on debt and existing revenues that otherwise would be earmarked for schools, health care and other services, The Associated Press reported.

Among the failed efforts is a bill that sought to increase taxes to shore up the state’s transportation program.

The House Finance Committee rejected a Senate-sponsored plan to increase the state’s per-gallon tax on motor fuels by about 8 cents to 25 cents per gallon. The bill – SB5013 – also called for increasing motor vehicle registration fees by $10 for all vehicles and doubling the gross weight registration fee for vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

The panel also rejected an effort that was billed as a compromise between the House and Senate. Sponsored by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield, the bill – HB5056 – would have allowed localities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to tap tolls and higher fees and taxes for transportation improvements.

A Senate-approved bill that used a similar approach to fund Northern Virginia projects was also defeated in the finance panel.

Tax and fee bills weren’t the only efforts to meet their demise in the capitol; toll-only efforts also were turned back.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, offered a bill that would have created a regional transportation authority with the power to levy tolls to pay for roadwork and upgrades on all major bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads.

The bill – HB5091 – allowed for tolls on existing roads, bridges and tunnels. Rates could vary between water-crossings and fluctuate by time of day.

Wardrup’s bill remained in the House Appropriations Committee at the deadline to advance from the chamber to the Senate.

Lawmakers were clearly frustrated that the session, which cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day, proved fruitless.

“It was a waste of time,” Albo told the Hampton Roads Daily Press. “No one was willing to compromise.”

The sentiment was shared by fellow Republican Delegate Vince Callahan of Fairfax.

“I think this whole session was an exercise in futility. The results were predictable,” Callahan told the Daily Press.

Efforts to come up with funding for transportation projects and other issues will have to wait until the 45-day regular session that begins in January.