McDonnell 'evaluating' proposal to raise Virginia gas tax

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Photo - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell hinted Monday that raising taxes at the pump could become part of a broader transportation package that he plans to push through the General Assembly next year.

While McDonnell was coy about the specifics of his plan, indexing the gas tax to inflation is "one of the things we're evaluating" to help raise revenue for roads, he said. The gas tax has remained unchanged since 1986, when it was set at 17.5 cents per gallon, despite increased fuel efficiency in vehicles and more miles of highway to maintain, the governor said.

Other taxes, like the income and sales taxes, are a percentage, not a flat rate.

"I'm going to be fairly adamant with the General Assembly this year that we've got to stop kicking the can down the road," McDonnell said. "There's a serious problem, and it's going to take significant money."

McDonnell brushed off a plan unveiled last week by Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, that would impose a tax on wholesale gasoline and eliminate some tax credits.

"I don't support broad-based tax increases in a down economy," he said.

A proposal to index the gas tax passed the Senate with bipartisan support earlier this year but died in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives without McDonnell's backing.

McDonnell, however, has warmed up to the idea of the Senate plan, and it appears House Republicans could, as well. Speaker Bill Howell told The Washington Examiner that if Democrats are willing to concede some general fund revenue for road repairs, his caucus would consider raising the gas tax.

Howell likened the upcoming negotiations to the talks on Capitol Hill to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, because the transportation issue in Virginia is dire and sides haven't agreed to a solution in years.

"We've got the same thing with a smaller cliff," Howell said. "Maybe we both give a little. I'm not sure by itself [raising the gas tax] would pass the House."

But Democrats are reticent to take money away from schools and social programs to pay for highways and transit projects.

"I would not rule out anything, but it is just crazy to me why we would want to do that," said Del. Mark Sickles, D-Franconia. "We can take some general fund money, but it doesn't really amount to anything while we have outstanding needs that we have a legal commitment and moral obligation to pay for."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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