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BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Senate adjourns without vote on roads bill
House OKs reform earlier in the day

Friday, February 22, 2013

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Senate has adjourned abruptly without a vote on a historic $880 million-a-year transportation reform bill that passed easily in the House.

The House passed it 60-40 earlier Friday.

The Senate called it quits after languishing in recess most of the afternoon as Senate Democrats awaited written assurance from Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell that he will allow for Medicaid expansion.

Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin said that without the guarantee, the Senate’s 20 Democrats would oppose the measure in the 40-seat Senate, dooming its passage.

The transportation bill is the centerpiece of McDonnell’s 2013 policy agenda and his last, best shot at a legislative legacy.

Below is the earlier story on House action on the bill:

Dels. Danny Marshall, Don Merricks and Charles Poindexter were among the 60 delegates voting for a highway reform bill on Friday.

The measure passed the House 60-40. It was being considered by the state Senate on Friday afternoon.

If the Senate follows suit, it will put the legislation in front of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who put transportation at the forefront of his policy agenda and has staked his legacy on its passage, The Associated Press reported.

The bill replaces Virginia’s 17 1/2 cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gasoline and a 6 percent levy on diesel fuel, according to Merricks and the AP.

It also boosts statewide sales taxes from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and uses more of the existing sales tax, increases the titling tax on car sales and adds a $100 fee to the purchase of hybrid vehicles, the AP reported.

“I think overall it’s a pretty good comprise bill,” Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, said Friday from Richmond. “There are some things I don’t like ... but we don’t get to itemize everything.”

Poindexter agreed.

“Any time you have 140 people with 140 ideas — 141 including the governor,” compromise is needed, and that is the case with this bill, he said. He said he did not like some things that were changed in the original bill, which he was a copatron of, but “you look at the whole thing and make a judgment on that.”

Both Merricks and Marshall said they have been receiving phone calls and emails from people urging them to vote against the bill because it is a huge tax increase. The delegates said that is not the case.

Merricks said a family that makes $40,000 a year and spends $11,000 on taxable goods and services will pay $33 more a year in taxes under the bill. If the same family drives 25,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon, the savings will be between $62 and $63 a year. The difference, he said, is a savings of about $30, depending on gas prices, how much someone drives and other factors.

The bill also would raise the sales tax from 5 to 6 percent in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area, and the revenue from the increase would stay in those areas to tackle transportation problems there, said Marshall, R-Danville.

“By this bill, if you live in Henry County, Martinsville and Southside rural Virginia, you won’t pay for it (road projects in Northern Virginia or Tidewater) until you go there and spend money,” he said. “If they want to fix their own problems, they’ll pay for it.”

There were other reasons they supported the measure.

Marshall said they have talked to the state Secretary of Transportation and others in his office and received assurances that if the bill passes, certain projects would move forward. One of them would be engineering and right-of-way work for the proposed Interstate 73, starting at the U.S. 58 bypass and going to the Patriot Centre industrial park and then north.

“They won’t be moving dirt this summer, but it would start the process,” he said.

Merricks noted that in 1976 when the gas tax was set at 17.5 cents, it cost about $25,000 to pave one mile of road. Today, the gas tax is unchanged but it costs $80,000 to pave one mile, he said.

“We’re not getting the purchasing power of the gas tax,” he said, especially with gas sales dropping as more people switch to hybrid and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“We need to tie transportation to funds that will grow as the economy grows. That’s what this bill does,” Merricks said.

Marshall also noted that in five years, all the money coming into the state’s Transportation Trust Fund will go to maintenance of existing roads. There will be none for new construction, he added.

At the same time, Virginia’s has dropped from first to third place in rankings for the best state in the nation to do business because of the transportation problems, mainly in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, he said.

“This is a problem when you’re trying to recruit businesses and they see you have transportation problems when in five years there will be no money for new roads,” Marshall said. “How are they going to get goods and services moving throughout the state?”

Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, also voted for the bill Friday.

See this page and Sunday’s Martinsville Bulletin for more on this story.


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