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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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Senate passes transportation tax bill

For the first time in 26 years, lawmakers have passed legislation to revise the way Virginia taxes for roads.

Saturday afternoon the state Senate voted 25-15 to pass a transportation funding reform bill, approved yesterday by the House of Delegates. It will now go to Gov. Bob McDonnell, for whom the two votes are a major victory. McDonnell made transportation reform a top priority in this, his last session as governor.

The bill as passed is a compromise between the elimination of the gas tax McDonnell initially proposed and higher gas taxes.

It eliminates the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax, applies a 3.5 percent wholesale tax to gas and a 6 percent tax to diesel, raises the state sales tax to 5.3 percent and contains additional taxes for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Senate supporters said it wasn’t “a perfect bill” but that it should help ease congestion and improve the economy in the two economic-engine regions of the state, Northern Virginia and Tidewater.

“This is truly the best we’re going to be able to get,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax. “If we vote for this I think the quality of life for all Virginians will improve and the business climate will improve.”

Other senators, though, said they couldn’t support the bill’s mish-mash of tax rates and its $100 fee on alternative fuel vehicles.

“I’ve read it, all 109 pages two times over, and while I want to vote for it I can’t bring myself to do it,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax. “I think this bill is overly complicated … in times it’s contradictory. … I don’t agree with having different tax rates in different parts of the commonwealth.”

Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson, said that while he’s one of the more conservative members of the Senate, he would vote for the bill for the same reason Del. Terry Kilgore gave on Friday — to protect Virginia’s rural regions from changes to the state transportation funding formulas that urban lawmakers have been pushing for years.

That, though, is exactly why Sen. Adam Ebbin said he couldn’t vote for it.

Without changing the Commonwealth Transportation Board representation, Ebbin said, “Northern Virginians will continue to be represented with only the voting rights equivalent to one third of our population.”

In the Fredericksburg region, most senators voted against the bill. Sens. Richard Stuart, Bryce Reeves, Tom Garrett and Jill Vogel were all no votes. Sen. Toddy Puller, a Democrat whose Fairfax district has a slice of Stafford, voted yes.

Stuart said his district covers part of Prince William County, which is considered Northern Virginia for purposes of the regional package in the bill. For Northern Virginia, that means the sales tax will go to 6 percent, and taxes on hotel occupancy and home sales also go up.

Stuart said he hadn’t had any constituents ask him to vote for the bill, but many asked him to vote no.

 

 

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