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Sparks fly again over transportation funding

MORE: See all local transportation news

The fight over the transportation funding reform bill pushed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and House Speaker Bill Howell early this year apparently isn’t over.

Two bills have already been filed for the 2014 General Assembly session, which starts in January, to repeal all or part of the bill.

Del. Ben Cline, R–Rockbridge, has filed a bill that would require all of the taxes and fees in the bill to expire on July 1, 2014.

Del. Scott Surovell, D–Fairfax, has filed a bill that would eliminate the fee on hybrid vehicles.

Howell on Monday gave Cline’s bill little chance at passage, but said bills like Surovell’s have a better shot. Some Republicans, like House Transportation Committee Chairman Del. Tom Rust, have also expressed interest in repealing the hybrid fee.

“I suspect that bill probably has pretty good chance of passage next year,” Howell said.

The transportation bill was one of the most divisive, debated and contested bills of the 2013 session.

Pushed by McDonnell with Howell’s help, it was predicted to generate $880 million per year in statewide transportation money within five years by replacing the 17.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale sales tax on gas and increasing the state sales tax to 5.3 percent.

The bill also raised the titling tax on vehicles by 1 percent and levied an annual $64 fee on hybrid, electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.

The bill also allows the regions of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise money on their own by setting up additional taxes and fees.

Many of the legislature’s more anti-tax conservatives staunchly opposed the bill for its tax provisions. Cline was among them, saying he thought a transportation bill should be “revenue neutral,” although the point of it from McDonnell’s perspective was to increase revenue for transportation.

“The plan that eventually became law is wrong for the commonwealth, its businesses, and its citizens,” Cline said Monday in a news release. “During this fragile economic recovery from the worst economic recession in years, it is wrong to increase the tax burden on working families and small businesses struggling to make ends meet. At the time, I promised to continue fighting to protect Virginians from higher taxes, which is why I have introduced legislation to repeal last year’s law. Once we remove these higher taxes from families and businesses, we can then work together to enact meaningful transportation reforms for all of Virginia.”

It’s unlikely, however, that Cline’s bill will ever see a full House of Delegates vote.

Howell, who controls which committees bills are assigned to, said Cline is welcome to introduce his bill, but he doubts that it has much support in the House, which eventually voted 60–40 to pass the transportation bill at the end of the 2013 session.

While a few of those lawmakers who voted for it won’t be in the House in 2014 —including a couple of Republicans who lost primaries in part because of the transportation bill—it’s unlikely that Cline will able to get his bill out of committee.

Even if he did get it past both houses, incoming Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe campaigned on his support for the transportation bill, and is unlikely to sign legislation to overturn it.

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I just don’t think it has the support to pass,” Howell said Monday of Cline’s bill.

He said people are seeing the benefits of the bill, such as additional road construction spending and new commuter lots around Fredericksburg.

“As people are seeing all the benefits that are accruing to areas I don’t think people are going to want to get rid of this thing,” he said.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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