Transportation plan debated

Published 6:48 pm Saturday, January 12, 2013

The reaction to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding plan has been mixed.

The surprising plan proposed eliminating the gas tax, rather than raising it, which would make Virginia the first state to do away with its levy on fuel. It also would raise the sales tax and dedicate the additional 0.8 percent to transportation, dedicate 0.25 cents of the existing sales tax to transportation, increase vehicle registration fees by $15, impose a $100 alternative fuel vehicle fee and implement other funding measures.

McDonnell’s office says the plan will raise $3.1 billion in transportation funding, including $1.8 billion for highway construction, during the next five years.

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Democrats have come out against the plan, and one, Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax, has introduced his own legislation that would adjust the gasoline tax, currently 17.5 cents per gallon, based on the fuel efficiency index, rather than eliminate it.

Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th) said he commends the governor for putting forth a plan but acknowledged there will be spirited debate on its components.

“It will be debated and discussed,” he said. “I do commend him for putting forth an effort to try to bring some new monies to the table for transportation.”

Also as part of the plan, the governor would support legislation to send voters a constitutional amendment that would ensure dollars committed to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund are used solely for transportation purposes.

The governor also will support legislation, which will be carried by Jones and was revealed in a Tuesday press conference, that will implement reforms at the Port of Virginia focusing on eliminating bureaucratic hurdles to enable the port to better compete with others on the East Coast, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s plan has been applauded by groups including the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in Suffolk and 16 other cities and counties.

“The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce applauds Governor McDonnell’s leadership in offering legislation that from our perspective will address what has been the chamber’s top legislative priority for many years,” Chamber President and CEO Jack Hornbeck Jr. said in response to the plan. “This is an important first step to fund the long-term transportation needs of Hampton Roads.”

— Sam Isaacs of Capital News Service contributed to this report.