Local Commentary

Senator Mary Margaret Whipple’s Richmond Report

Transportation Session

The General Assembly continues to struggle with the transportation issue in Special Session. We are currently scheduled to be in Richmond on July 9th for a last ditch effort to achieve agreement.

I am proud to say that the Senate Democrats, on a party-line vote of 21-19, have adopted a solid plan that will be considered by the House of Delegates next week.

The statewide portion of the plan includes funding for public transit and for highway maintenance. Twenty-five per cent of the money raised would go to public transit systems statewide. Because these funds are matching funds for local effort, the majority of this money would come to Northern Virginia currently. The funding would also act as an incentive for other parts of the state to beef up their transit systems or start new service.
Highway maintenance funds would be replenished so there would no longer be a drain on construction funds. This is an essential part of the package as otherwise funds raised in the regional plans would merely replace state dollars.

The critical issue is how to fund such a statewide plan. The Senate chose to use small increments in three taxes: one-quarter percent sales tax; one-half percent auto titling tax; and, finally, a penny a year for six years in gasoline tax, in order to capture money for Virginia from truckers and drivers from out-of-state.

To reduce the impact of the gasoline tax on Virginia drivers, the Senate adopted a one-half percent reduction in the sales tax on food, a benefit for all Virginia families that completely offsets the increase in the gas tax even when fully implemented.

While there is little appetite in the House for any tax, the gasoline tax seems to be even more unpopular. The reason we believe it is important is because it fairly taxes all those who use the roads. It seems very unfair to put all the burden on Virginians when so much wear and tear on the roads is caused by vehicles passing through the state.

Furthermore, when gasoline prices are going up, and occasionally down, by several cents a week, most people would not notice a penny increase. In a number of states the tax increases are absorbed by the oil companies. For example, prices at the North Carolina border are often the same in Virginia as in North Carolina even though their gas tax is 12 cents higher.

The bill includes regional plans for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The Northern Virginia plan would be funded with a half-cent increase in the sales tax, a forty cent increase in the grantor’s tax paid by the seller of real property, and a $5 per night lodging tax. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has agreed on plans for using the funds and is ready to go when the funding is approved.

Now we need 51 votes in the House!