Jones: No to referendum

Published 9:42 pm Saturday, December 29, 2012

Delegate Chris Jones is sticking by his opposition to a sales tax referendum in the face of a bill introduced by a fellow Republican that proposes just that.

Delegate Chris Stolle (R-83), who represents parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, has introduced a bill that, if passed, would ask voters in November 2013 if they would favor a 20-percent hike on their sales tax.

If a majority of voters choose “yes,” the general sales tax would rise from 5 to 6 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2014, in the 16 localities that make up the Hampton Roads Planning District, which includes Suffolk.

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Reported estimates say the bill (HB 1450) could generate up to $195 million. The money would be placed in a new fund dedicated to Hampton Roads transportation projects identified by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.

A similar referendum in 2002 failed resoundingly at the ballot box. But this bill includes some new features, such as the dedicated fund for Hampton Roads projects.

Delegate Jones (R-76) said Saturday he is willing to consider raising the sales tax as part of a package of solutions to the transportation debacle but does not favor asking the voters to do it.

“The House and the Senate need to work on finding a comprehensive solution to address our transportation needs,” he said.

The problem is so large and complex that no one fix is going to do the trick, Jones added. He said a combination of additional revenue and “shifting our priorities,” such as adjusting certain tax credits and cutting other spending, is the only way to gain the needed funding.

“There are ways to get there,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and figure out how we can do it, but I’m not sure in a 45-day session we can accomplish all that needs to be done. I don’t want to piecemeal or put a Band-Aid on it. It needs to be fixed comprehensively.”

Jones said Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to roll out a package of transportation proposals next week. The General Assembly session begins Jan. 9.