Virginia lawmakers seek to replace ‘bad’ driver fees

| 1/21/2008

The controversial “abusive driver” fees in Virginia are facing an onslaught of legislative efforts to scrap the law that put them in place. As a result, the state faces uncertainty for how to replace revenue the fees were intended to generate.

Gov. Tim Kaine urged lawmakers during his state of the commonwealth speech at the start of the 2008 regular session to scrap the fees levied on Virginia drivers for serious traffic offenses, such as reckless or drunken driving. The fees, which range from $250 to $1,000 in three annual payments, were attached to a massive transportation funding package approved a year ago.

A recent study by the General Assembly’s investigative arm found the state would fall short of generating the projected $65 million a year. They also said the state might have to issue more than 300,000 license suspensions during the next two years for failure to pay the fees.

With many legislators intent on repealing the fees, they must come up with other revenue sources for road and bridge repairs. The other option is to tap into money earmarked for new construction.

Among the bills introduced to help fill the anticipated funding gap are measures that would increase the state’s 17.5 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel and gas. Proposed tax increases range from a penny to 10 cents per gallon.

It is estimated that even a one-cent increase would generate about $50 million a year, The Roanoke Times reported.

The governor offered his own proposal. Kaine said he favors increasing the state’s sales tax on vehicles from 3 percent to 5 percent.

The likelihood for getting tax increases through the statehouse is considered grim. Republicans, who control the House, don’t appear willing to advance legislation that includes more taxes. Instead, some GOP lawmakers would prefer to use existing revenue – such as a portion of the existing sales tax – to fill any maintenance gaps.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor