Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s controversial transportation plan passed the state’s House of Delegates Tuesday, but failed to be approved by the Senate, despite both chambers agreeing on separate legislation that would ban tolling on Interstate 95 in the southern part of the state.
The House voted 53-46 to pass McDonnell’s plan, which the governor has said would raise about $3.1 billion for transportation construction and maintenance, including debt issuance, over the next five years by eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax and offsetting it with a 0.8 percent phased-in increase in the state’s general sales tax.
The plan would make Virginia the first state to completely abolish its gas tax.
The Senate voted down two alternative Republican proposals but ultimately chose to send its version of McDonnell’s bill back to committee, essentially killing it since Tuesday was the deadline for the chambers to pass bills to send to each other.
The Senate could amend the House-passed bill or vote it down in the general assembly’s remaining weeks. McDonnell praised the House but blasted Senate Democrats as “the party of ‘no.’”
“The House of Delegates stepped up and on a bipartisan basis passed a transportation funding solution,” McDonnell said after the votes. “Thankfully, their action means a transportation bill is still advancing this session, despite today’s partisan blockade by Democrats in the State Senate.”
McDonnell invoked the debate over the heavily bond-funded Dulles Rail project, for which Democrats last year pushed for more funding for to mitigate toll increases.
“Just last year, the Senate Democrats used the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, and their demands for additional funding to mitigate the costs of Phase Two of the Dulles Metrorail Project, as their stated reason to repeatedly kill a budget,” McDonnell said. “Now, just one year later, those very same senators today rejected the $300 million in this bill to lower the costs of the Dulles project, thus ensuring higher tolls for drivers in Northern Virginia.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Richard Saslaw of Springfield, argued that numerous out-of-state drivers who use Virginia roads should help pay for them.
But both chambers agreed to put the brakes on the governor’s and Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to free up state resources by tolling I-95 in the southern part of the state. The plan, awaiting final approval under a federal pilot program, has generated major opposition from area localities and citizen groups. Del. Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville, who introduced the amendment to McDonnell’s bill preventing the tolls, said the state should find a different way to achieve the same result.
“The tolling proposal on the table at VDOT since last summer is bad for small business, job creation, economic growth and at the same time an inefficient means to generate revenue for maintenance. I support public/private partnerships that build new roads and use tolling as a dedicated source of revenue to support the financing of new construction.”
The Senate passed stand-alone legislation preventing the tolling plan. Each chamber may now consider only legislation passed by the other.