Gov. Bob McDonnell pressures Virginia lawmakers to support roads plan

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Steve Contorno,Taxes

With his transportation package in jeopardy, Gov. Bob McDonnell toured the state Thursday to pressure lawmakers into backing his plan to eliminate the gas tax and hike the sales tax to raise money for badly needed roads.

McDonnell stopped by a Herndon tech business center to rally support for his proposal, which he estimates will raise $3.1 billion for transportation projects in the next five years. In a call to action, he pleaded for business and community leaders to contact their representatives in Richmond.

"I need your help," McDonnell said. "They need to hear from you this is the package that can pass."

McDonnell wants to abolish the 17.5-cent tax on a gallon of gasoline and raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent, while increasing fees on registering vehicles and collecting sales taxes for online purchases. He also wants to shift some general fund money to road work.

That proposal appears to be the most palatable to Virginia voters. According to a survey released Thursday by Christopher Newport University, 63 percent of Virginians support the governor's plan. When polled individually, 45 percent support raising the sales tax, while less than a third of voters liked the idea of a gas tax hike or new tolls.

But his plan took a blow this week when Del. Joe May, a Leesburg Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, and two other Northern Virginia Republicans introduced a competing plan that raises the sales tax by 0.5 cents and eliminates the 2.5-cent tax on food. That package also allows localities to raise their sales tax to pay for local roads projects.

Other proposals, like imposing a 5 percent tax on wholesale gasoline, are being considered, as well.

"The [transportation] committee is going to try to take ideas from each of these things and craft a bill," said Del. Dave Albo, a Springfield Republican who is working with May.

Democrats in the Senate have also dismissed the governor's plan, and Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, has called for a large tax hike to pay for roads and schools.

McDonnell said Thursday he'll block any major tax increases and criticized lawmakers for putting forth proposals that in his determination had little chance of passing both chambers.

"Let's be realistic about what's good economics, what fixes the problem with maintenance and what can actually pass," McDonnell said. "If a bill doesn't meet all three of those criteria, then I think you're wasting your time. "

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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