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Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling backs gas-tax hike for Virginia roads

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Steve Contorno

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is pushing for lawmakers to pass a gas-tax hike, the latest high-profile Republican to buck Gov. Bob McDonnell's call to axe the tax at the pump.

Bolling, who is weighing an independent bid for governor, sent a letter Thursday outlining his preferences to the delegates and senators who will be working in the coming days to hammer out a transportation funding package that can pass both chambers.

In the letter, Bolling called for both parties to compromise, which for Republicans will mean raising the gas tax to help pay for crumbling roads. The Senate passed a plan Wednesday that would increase the tax on a gallon of gasoline from 17.5 cents to 22.5 and levy a 1-percent tax on wholesale gasoline, while McDonnell's House-approved plan eliminates the tax entirely and instead raises the sales tax to 5.8 percent.

The Senate bill passed with support from all 20 Democrats and six Republicans, while the House narrowly approved their measure with just a handful of Democrats on board.

"An agreement must include ways to generate significant new revenue for highway construction and maintenance, most likely in the form of higher taxes and fees," Bolling wrote. "This will require willingness on the part of many Republicans to compromise on the issue of higher taxes and fees, and I encourage them to do so."

Bolling joins former and maybe future rival Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as high-ranking Republicans who have chosen to back an alternative to McDonnell's transportation package. Cuccinelli wants to be the GOP nominee to replace McDonnell next year and Bolling is considering running as an independent after dropping out of the Republican race last year.

Most Republicans running for statewide office have rejected McDonnell's plan.

Bolling said Democrats will have to budge on their unwillingness to use general fund money as part of comprehensive transportation funding reform. Senate Democrats voted for using $50 million a year from the general fund, which pays for education and social services, for roadwork. McDonnell wants $280 million a year by 2018.

The Senate version includes a 1 percent local sales tax component for communities to raise money for much-needed transportation projects, which Bolling backed as well.

The Republican conferees who will be working on a solution are Dels. Chris Jones, Dave Albo, Beverly Sherwood and John O'Bannon and Sens. Frank Wagner, Walter Stosch, Tommy Norment and John Watkins. Only two Democrats will be part of the negotiations: Sen. Janet Howell of Reston and Del. Onzlee Ware of Roanoke. Those deliberations will take place behind closed doors.

There are just 10 days left before the session is scheduled to end.

"A solution to this important issue has eluded us for far too long," Bolling said. "We have a historic opportunity to solve this problem this year and I am confident that we can do so if we continue to work together and are willing to compromise."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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