Virginia transportation bill heads to governor

| 3/6/2007

With time running out on the regular session, lawmakers in the Virginia House and Senate were able to reach agreement on a long-term transportation package. The plan that was crafted by key members from both chambers would allow $2.5 billion in borrowing for roads, rail and transit projects.

The 105-page Republican-authored package passed the House on a 64-34 vote. The final tally was much closer in the opposite chamber where the Senate voted 21-18 to advance the final version to the governor's desk where it is expected to see numerous changes.

Of particular interest to truckers, the bill includes provisions to boost penalties for overweight trucks and heavy truck registration fees. Removed from the bill was a provision to increase the state's 16-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel to 17.5 cents.

The most pivotal aspect of the funding feature is $2.5 billion in bonds to be used through 2016 for various transportation projects. Removed from the final version of the bill was a direct diversion of $250 million a year from the state's general fund.

Instead, the bill - HB3202 - would dig into the general fund account to pay off the borrowing.

The use of general funds was a sticking point in negotiations. The GOP-led House has been adamant about including general fund revenue to help pay for transportation projects. The majority of Republican senators and many Democrats, however, say tapping into the fund will hurt other programs that include education and health care, The Roanoke Times reported.

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, immediately condemned the idea of redirecting general funds to transportation. He has promised "significant changes." Lawmakers will gather at the Capitol for a one-day session April 4 to accept or reject the governor's alterations. If they don't agree to them, Kaine can veto the entire bill.

Other less contentious elements of the plan rely on higher fines for the state's worst drivers, tolls, tax and fee increases, surplus money and possible regional taxing authorities for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.