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Lawmakers set to revamp McDonnell's roads plan

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

A bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers is revamping Gov. Bob McDonnell's latest transportation plan, saying his proposal to shift sales tax revenues to pay for roads would shortchange emergency services and education while doing little to improve state highways.

To avoid a tax increase, McDonnell proposed shifting an additional 0.25 percent of existing sales tax revenues to roads and reserving 75 percent of any year-end surpluses for transportation, among other measures.

He also proposed a novel approach to raise funds for transportation projects, allowing private entities to buy naming rights to the state's highways and bridges.

Democrats were quick to reject McDonnell's plan when he announced it last month, but enough of McDonnell's fellow Republicans also objected that the House and Senate are reworking the plan.

A House of Delegates committee stripped McDonnell's plan of many of its provisions last week. On the Senate side, a bipartisan group of lawmakers killed the proposal to shift the sales tax revenue to transportation projects and instead proposed tying the state gas tax to inflation so it would increase automatically.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who introduced McDonnell's plan in the Senate but is now supporting many of the changes, said raising the gas tax in line with inflation was a more reliable way to fund transportation.

"We got something there that plugs the hole in the dike," he said. "The package that we passed, I would submit to you, with the indexing, does provide a steady source of new revenues that continues to grow year after year. It may not be a whole lot after the first year, but after the fourth year it's $150 million."

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said allowing the gas tax to rise with inflation wouldn't be enough to solve the state's funding woes because the tax would increase by less than a penny per gallon in the first year. But he agreed that the governor's plan needed to be reworked.

"I think that it's in the best interest of all Virginians to have a transportation funding proposal that has new, serious, long-term revenue instead of simply relying heavily on episodic infusions of money," he said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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