Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
New transpo plan wins Senate Dems, loses some Republicans
A Senate committee this morning approved a substantial rewrite of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan, winning Democratic votes but losing several Republicans, including the bill’s former sponsor.
Having Democratic support makes it likely the bill will pass out of the Senate on Tuesday, a necessary step toward getting the bill into a conference committee where a small group of House and Senate negotiators can try to hack out a compromise.
That has been the goal of lawmakers on both sides who’ve been involved in trying to pass a transportation funding reform bill this year — they have worked hard to get enough votes for different versions of the bill to keep it alive while they work to find a way to make the bill palatable to a majority of legislators in both houses.
The amendments to the bill made by the Senate committee make it vastly different than what passed out of the House last week. The new language, proposed by Sen. Frank Wagner, would raise the state gas tax from 17.5 cents per gallon to 22.5 cents then index it; apply a 1 percent statewide sales tax on gasoline and diesel; maintain a small amount of general fund money for transportation but not as much as McDonnell had proposed; raises the vehicle registration fee $15; and allows localities to adopt a one percent additional sales tax for local transportation projects. It retains from McDonnell’s bill a reliance on future sales taxes if Congress passes a bill allowing states to collect taxes from online sales, adding an additional one percent state sales tax if that doesn’t happen, and has language barring tolls on I-95 without legislative approval.
It passed the committee on a 9-6 vote, but is unlikely to survive the full legislative process with all of those elements intact.
The Wagner amendment won the support of all the Democrats on the committee, a shift from last week when Democrats in the evenly-split Senate voted against two different transportation alternatives, killing the Senate’s version of the bill.
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said afterward that the Wagner amendment won Democrats because it had less general fund money — something Democrats oppose — and raises more revenue than McDonnell’s original bill.
“We’re cognizant this is the year to get something accomplished,” Howell said.
But having less general fund money and more revenue is exactly why the Wagner version lost the support of several Republicans, including Sen. Steve Newman of Lynchburg, who had been the original sponsor of the Senate version of McDonnell’s bill.
“For me, this amendment is just a bridge too far,” Newman told reporters.
He said that while he voted against the amended bill, he’s glad the conversation will continue and that there is “a clear recognition of the need to do something” about transportation funding.
The full Senate will vote Wednesday on the bill with Wagner’s amendment.