- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Republican legislator is considering a plan that would raise the state’s gasoline tax 5 cents to pay for Virginia’s growing highway-maintenance needs.

Under the proposal by Sen. Marty Williams, Newport News Republican, the gasoline tax would increase at the rate of inflation. The money would go toward paying the rising costs of road repairs, which in recent years have been stripping money from highway construction.

Mr. Williams said finding more money for roads should be considered part of a general revamping of the state’s tax code, which Democratic Gov. Mark Warner and a group of legislators have begun discussing.

The gas-tax idea is in the early stages, Mr. Williams said. He hasn’t discussed it with other legislators or the governor.

Mr. Williams led the effort to get the transportation tax proposal on the ballot last year. However, it was defeated. He told the Daily Press of Newport News that he would burn more political capital on a tax increase only if he’s assured that government agencies could be trusted to spend the money efficiently.

“People would consider it if the money was being spent wisely,” Mr. Williams said.

An important element of winning the public’s trust, he said, would be an amendment to the Virginia Constitution prohibiting legislators from spending money in the Transportation Trust Fund on anything other than its stated purpose: construction related to roads, mass transit, ports and airports.

A 5-cent increase would raise about $240 million a year, Virginia Department of Transportation officials said. That would free up more money for construction. Commonwealth law requires highway officials to set money aside for repairing roads before building others.

In the department’s six-year plan, about $407 million is scheduled to be diverted from building highways to cover the cost of repaving old ones.

Mr. Williams says maintenance demands — including repaving, filling potholes and cutting grass in highway medians — threaten to take so much of the budget that there won’t be enough for the state to qualify for all available federal highway-construction money.

“We’re getting to Armageddon in transportation funding,” he said. “We’re three or four years away.”

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