Are higher fuel taxes on the horizon in Virginia?

| 12/29/2006

 A Virginia state lawmaker has turned over a new leaf when it comes to tax increases.

Delegate John Welch III, R-Virginia Beach, has opposed raising taxes in the past but now supports a 10-cent increase to the state's per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel to help pay for transportation projects.

Welch said he changed his mind after hearing from voters who are frustrated by the state's transportation problems, The Associated Press reported.

A dime increase in the state's fuel tax would generate about $522 million annually. The state now levies 17.5 cents per gallon of gas and about 16 cents per gallon of diesel.

Welch said he would only go along with the higher tax plan if lawmakers also approve an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that prohibits transportation revenues from being diverted for other purposes, The AP reported. He wants the revenue generated from higher fuel taxes to pay for $2 billion in bonds for roads and rail.

With all state lawmakers in Virginia up for election in November 2007, Welch acknowledged the pressure on legislators to come up with ways to pay for needed transportation work.

Despite Welch's change of heart on taxes, the conservative Republican leadership in the Virginia House remains opposed to increasing taxes during an election-year session, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The session begins Jan. 10, 2007.

Instead, House Republicans have proposed legislation that would tie land-use decisions to transportation funding.

The bills would hold localities more accountable for development decisions, The AP reported. Localities would have more responsibility for maintaining the roads in and around new developments.