- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2007

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A regional authority approved a set of taxes and fees yesterday to finance Hampton Roads transportation projects but delayed the effective date three months to give the General Assembly time to find alternatives to pay for the projects.

A number of people had protested the package at two public hearings this week of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, a panel of 12 local elected officials the legislature empowered to levy the fees and taxes and build new regional roads.

The taxes and fees are expected to go into effect April 1 and bring in up to $200 million a year. They will be collected in the Virginia cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg and the Virginia counties of Isle of Wight, James City and York.

They include a 2 percent gas tax increase, a levy of 40 cents paid by the seller of a house per every $100 of the final sale price, a $10 annual increase in vehicle safety inspections and a 5 percent sales tax on car repair bills.

Authority members voted 8-4 yesterday to approve a resolution adopting the fee and tax structure — an action the authority’s chairman called “a significant moment in the history of Hampton Roads.”

“The transportation crisis is real. It’s going to get worse,” Paul D. Fraim, who also is Norfolk’s mayor, told fellow authority members. “With this action I think we have taken a significant step toward solving the crisis.”

The move came amid a public backlash against the so-called “abusive driver” fees the legislature approved last winter and took effect July 1. Two judges have declared those fees unconstitutional because they apply only to Virginians and not to out-of-state drivers just passing through.

Those fees, plus regional packages for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, are part of the state’s first major overhaul of transportation funding in about 20 years.

Newport News Mayor Joe S. Frank said delaying collection of fees and taxes in Hampton Roads from Jan. 1 until April 1 will pressure state lawmakers who don’t want to be voted out of office to alter the package to make it more acceptable to the public. The General Assembly session begins in January.

“We have given them an opportunity to fix what they have done and be responsive to the concerns that the public has expressed,” Mr. Frank said after the meeting. “If they choose not to be responsive, they’ll be accountable for not being responsive.”

Hampton Mayor Ross A. Kearney II said he voted against the package because transportation is a state problem and solutions need to be applied statewide.

“This legislation is going to have to be looked at by the general public, and they’re going to have to encourage their legislators to do a much better job,” he said.

Norfolk resident Ellis W. James, who attended the meeting, said he doubts General Assembly members “who have failed to deal with this transportation issue all of these years” will be moved to change the tax package.

“Do you honestly believe they are going to do anything other than say, ‘Oh well, we can wait until April Fool’s Day and it will all go away because it will go right back to the localities?’ ” Mr. James said afterward.

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