- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly yesterday reached the halfway point of the legislative session known as Crossover, clearing the way for a debate over transportation taxes and spending.

The House and Senate had until midnight to complete their respective bills. Starting today, each chamber is allowed to consider only the other’s measures.

In the past, the days leading up to Crossover have been grueling, with extended floor sessions and extra work on weekends.

The House spent nearly seven hours debating more than 200 bills on Monday, but finished early yesterday.

“I can’t remember another Crossover day when I saw the sun,” said Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat, after the House adjourned around noon.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith said giving subcommittees more power to kill legislation has streamlined the process. The Salem Republican said the lack of major fights also helped.

“There have been some skirmishes but nothing particularly bitter,” he said. “We’re not as exhausted.”

The Senate adjourned after 6 p.m.

Several notable measures have crossed chambers this session, including bills that toughen penalties for child-sex predators, offer tax relief and deny illegal aliens in-state tuition rates.

A bill that ends the estate tax imposed posthumously on millionaires and a measure that creates a sales tax holiday for school supplies have passed the House and have wide support in the Senate.

Early in the session, both chambers gave final passage to constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The amendment goes to voters in November.

Other measures, including one that restricts access to abortion and another that bans smoking in workplaces, passed one chamber but are expected to be rejected by the other.

The Senate passed a bill that designates “Shenandoah,” as the interim state song. Many House members disagree with the song, since it is not technically about Virginia.

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously agreed to a transportation plan that would raise about $1 billion annually through a series of fee and tax increases.

Among other increases, the package would raise the sales tax on purchasing a car from 3 percent to 3.75 percent and the tax on diesel fuel to match the current 17.5 cents per gallon tax on gasoline. It would increase the vehicle registration fee by $10 and the registration fee for heavy trucks.

The package also dedicates the tax on auto insurance to transportation and seeks to impose additional fines on drivers with serious traffic violations.

The Senate plan would increase the grantor tax paid by someone selling property from 10 cents per $100 of value to up to 40 cents per $100 of value.

The increase would stay in the jurisdiction where the property is located and would be dedicated to transportation. It would generate $200 million a year, of which about $100 million would go to Northern Virginia.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, said he thinks the measure is a good compromise.

“Nothing is easy,” he said. “Everyone enjoys a different appetite for how you raise the revenue. None of us are going to agree with everything.”

The committee also unanimously passed a bill that would allow Arlington and Fairfax counties, and Alexandria, Fairfax city and Falls Church to raise the sales tax from 5 cents on the dollar to 5.25 cents on the dollar to raise extra funds for Metrorail.

The House and Senate will continue negotiating a transportation plan.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, is touring the state to build support for legislative action to ease traffic congestion.

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