Virginia lawmakers again tackle transportation funding

| 1/11/2007

The new legislative session opened in Virginia this week with transportation funding dominating the discussions.

Gov. Tim Kaine wants House and Senate lawmakers to consider his nearly $1 billion-a-year plan to increase taxes and fees to pay for work on roads, rail and mass transit.

About half of the revenue would come from a 2-percent increase in the sales tax on new vehicles. Higher registration fees and stiffer fines for bad drivers also are included in the plan as well as an increase in registration fees on large trucks.

House Republicans rebuked a similar plan from the Senate GOP and Democratic governor a year ago. They have vowed to do the same this year, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

Observers say the unwillingness of both sides to budge could lead to another year of not being able to come up with a long-term plan for funding new roads.

While occupants in the statehouse and governor's suite continue to wrangle over transportation funding, a handful of bills offered in the early days of the session are intended to give roads and transit a shot in the arm.

Delegate Harry "Bob" Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, has introduced a bill - HB1940 - that would require any budget surplus remaining at the end of every two-year budget cycle be used for new highway construction.

Delegate Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, offered a measure that would increase the amount of the state sales tax dedicated to transportation.

Starting July 1, the bill - HB1638 - would boost the amount devoted to transportation from half a percent to three-fourths of a percent. The amount sent to transportation would increase to a full percent beginning July 1, 2008.

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, has offered a similar effort - HB1703 - that would increase the amount allotted to transportation from half a percent to three-fourths of a percent. However, it doesn't include the provision to later increase the amount to a full percent.

One other bill of interest has been offered by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield.

Albo's bill - HB1893 - would require that any federal grants used for transportation enhancements be allocated to districts throughout the state on the basis of population.

HB1638, HB1703 and HB1940 are in the House Appropriations Committee. HB1893 is in the House Transportation Committee.