Virginia GOP works out transportation plan

| 1/26/2007

Republican leaders in the Virginia statehouse have reached a tentative deal for how to pay for transportation needs in the state. Whether it will pass muster with enough lawmakers to gain approval is another matter.

A handful of GOP House and Senate members recently unveiled their plan that relies on long-term borrowing, higher fines for the state's worst drivers, tolls, tax and fee increases, surplus money and possible regional taxing authorities.

The agreement follows a lengthy dispute between Republicans in the House and Senate about how to address the state's struggling transportation needs. Both chambers have Republican majorities.

For the past several months, Senate leaders and Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine have said new revenues, including a fuel tax increase, are needed to address congestion and maintenance costs, while House leaders have vehemently opposed higher taxes and fees.

Of particular interest to truckers, the latest proposal - HB3202 - includes a provision to increase the state's 16-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel to 17.5 cents. It also would boost penalties for overweight trucks and heavy truck registration fees.

The 43-page Republican plan includes about $1.4 billion annually in state and regional funds. It also authorizes bonds totaling $2 billion.

As introduced, regional authorities for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia would be authorized to place tolls on new or upgraded roads.

Other sources tapped for funding include dedicating nearly $230 million of the state's surplus funds and tapping into the general fund for another $250 million.

Not included in the transportation plan is a provision sought by the governor for a 2-percent increase in the sales tax on new vehicles.

Despite concerns about certain items that did make it into the bill, including diverting money from the general fund, Kaine called the road plan a "significant and serious step."

Democrats said they are concerned about the regional plan that allows cities and counties to impose so-called congestion fees on home sales and higher taxes on real estate deals.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor