In Virginia legislature, transit measures not in express lane

‘Proposals have a long way to go’

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RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s pledge for big solutions this year to Virginia’s perpetual transportation problems has stalled in the House and Senate, with both chambers advancing significantly watered-down versions of his agenda despite Republicans’ stronghold on the General Assembly.

The House Appropriations Committee signed off on its version of the omnibus bill Friday. Unlike the state Senate measure, however, the bill from Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, retained one of Mr. McDonnell’s signature proposals — to increase the amount of the state sales tax that goes to transportation.

“These transportation proposals have a long way to go,” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican. “I’ll wait to see what [they] pass. But I am advocating one major thing, and that is having a greater percentage of the sales tax going to transportation maintenance. …. Right now, I’m just observing.”

Unlike the Senate’s version, the House bill includes Mr. McDonnell’s novel proposal to sell naming rights for roads and bridges for an annual fee, which Matt Strader, Virginia’s assistant secretary of transportation, estimated could generate roughly $5 million to $20 million.

“The last thing I want to do is have us in the advertising business and discover we’re paying for it,” quipped Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

The bills in both chamber do not include the highly criticized Toll Road Authority. The entity would have the power to construct, operate and maintain toll-road facilities statewide. But the generated revenue would not necessarily be tied to the region in which the toll facilities were placed.

Though proposals to directly increase the state’s 17.5-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax have been dead on arrival, a provision that would index an increase to inflation was added to the Senate bill from Sen. Frank W. Wagner, Virginia Beach Republican.

Mr. McDonnell has declined to take a position on the indexing concept, which many Republicans liken to a tax increase.

The governor said he was “confident” the House would pass most of his transportation initiative, but was less assured about what will happen in the upper chamber.

“The Senate, obviously, has come up with a few different ideas,” Mr. McDonnell said. “We’ll see what happens at the end.”

Republicans have a 68-32 advantage in the House, including Lacey E. Putney, a Bedford independent who caucuses with the GOP. They are also governing as the majority party in the Senate, with Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote looming over most 20-20 splits.

Still, Democrats have seized on the sales tax proposal and any talk of using more general fund money for roads as a foothold for leverage.

Mr. Bolling has ruled that his tie-breaking authority does not extend to voting on the two-year budget. So any proposal would have to win the vote of at least one Democrat.

The revised sales-tax proposal in the House bill would reallocate an estimated $94 million over the next two years. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican, suggested the provision was removed from Mr. Wagner’s bill to avoid a later fight over the budget.

Both parties accused each other last week of focusing too much on divisive social issues during the session.

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