- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell put new revenue on the table for state transportation improvements — though not higher taxes — as he rolled out portions of his transportation plan Thursday in Norfolk.

Mr. McDonnell, who shepherded a $3 billion transportation package through the 2011 General Assembly that mostly relies on issuing bonds, acknowledged Thursday that the state’s 17.5-cent gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1986, is not keeping up with inflation, calling it a “mathematical reality.”

The gasoline tax provides two-thirds of the state’s revenue base for transportation, and revenue will decline as more alternative energy fuels are deployed and miles per gallon increase, Mr. McDonnell told a crowd at his 2011 transportation conference held in Norfolk.

“You add those two things together, and you have a math problem,” he said.

To that end, the governor is proposing new revenue as part of his plan to fix the state’s ailing, underfunded road system.

One proposal would increase the share of the state’s 5 percent sales tax that goes to transportation from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent over the next eight years. Mr. McDonnell estimated that an increase from 0.5 percent to 0.55 percent during the upcoming budget would generate $110 million for transportation maintenance.

“I’d much rather see people complaining about construction, rather than congestion,” said Mr. McDonnell, calling the lack of ongoing maintenance “unacceptable” and “unsustainable.”

Mr. McDonnell went on to say that if the state government can effectively set priorities on spending, it can reallocate some general fund dollars to transportation — a “core function of government,” as Mr. McDonnell described it Thursday.

That prospect has proved anathema for Democrats over the years, who characterize such a move as robbing money from schools, health care, and other core functions to pay for roads.

But with an overwhelming Republican majority in the House of Delegates, the GOP effectively controlling the state Senate and the state facing a potential $1 billion funding gap over the next two years, any tax hikes are likely off the table.

Other proposals include increasing transportation’s year-end share of surpluses to 75 percent, funneling state tax revenue from economic development projects surrounding major new transportation infrastructure to transportation, and using the first 1 percent in state revenue growth above 5 percent for transportation, which would result in a boon of about $150 million.

“We’re trying to do some things during these four years to try to leave the campground a little bit better than we found it, as the Boy Scouts might say,” he said.