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Governor’s transportation pitch stalls in Senate

Virginia's evenly-divided Senate failed to back Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation funding overhaul Tuesday, sending the vast proposal back to committee on the final day for the state's two legislative chambers to finalize their bills.

While McDonnell appeared hopeful around midday, after the House of Delegates passed a version of his transportation pitch, by 7:40 p.m. the governor was relegated to releasing a statement that condemned Senate Democrats' “decision to reject advancing a transportation funding bill of any kind.”

By sending the transportation bill back to committee, the Senate showed it was OK with passing over new, much-needed road and transportation money this year.

The Republican governor’s plan, which he packaged as “Virginia’s Road to the Future,” includes eliminating the state’s 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and increasing Virginia’s sales and use tax nearly one percent. McDonnell's office says it would provide more than $3.1 billion in transportation funding for the commonwealth over the next five years, including $1.8 billion for new construction, ending the state’s crossover conundrum, in which money meant for construction is currently diverted to simple maintenance.

The plan remains alive in the slightly-altered version passed by the House and sent to the Senate. But the bipartisan vote in the Senate Tuesday against two Republicans' amendments to its own version reveal the stark challenges the two parties have in finding compromise.

Also included in McDonnell's original plan is increasing the state's vehicle registration fee by $15, with the revenue going toward intercity passenger rail and transit, and imposing a $100 annual fee on alternative fuel vehicles, also to be used for transit. The alternative-fuel fee was scrapped in the final House bill, which passed narrowly.

“Rather than engaging in a debate on how to move forward with tackling our transportation problems, it is apparent that the Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, are once again content to risk our continued economic prosperity and our citizens’ quality of life,” McDonnell said in his statement. “Their partisan, lock-step opposition to fixing transportation is incredibly disappointing. Sadly, the Senate Democrats appear to be the ‘Party of No.’”

Democrats were quickly out with a statement repeating their claims the Republican proposal raided money “from education and public safety and did not raise enough revenue to solve Virginia's transportation crisis.”

Saslaw (D-35th), who represents portions of Fairfax County and Alexandria, repeatedly called McDonnell's proposal inadequate, saying it fell short of the $1 billion a year needed to deal with the state's under-serviced roads.

"I wish we could have reached agreement tonight, but none of the transportation proposals we saw tonight were anything close to the long-term comprehensive solution Virginia needs,” Saslaw said. “The governor's bill has been fatally flawed since day one."

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