RICHMOND – The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday gave its final approval to a historic transportation funding package that will raise $6 billion in new taxes and fees to fix the state’s congested highways.
The package, full of minor amendments from Gov. Bob McDonnell, drew little debate and passed both chambers. It now goes back to McDonnell for the Republican leader to sign into law his signature legislative accomplishment and political legacy.
The bill lawmakers voted on was largely the same one they passed before leaving Richmond in February. Starting July 1, the sales tax will go up from 5 cents to 5.3 cents in most of the state and up to 6 cents in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The 17.5 cent tax on gasoline is also shifted to a 3.5 percent tax on wholesale gas.
In the D.C. suburbs, it will also become more expensive to buy a home, sell a car and stay a night in a hotel. But all the money raised in those regional taxes – more than $1 billion over the next five years – will stay in the area for local transportation projects.
Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, estimated the average family of four will pay about $14 a month more in taxes.
Northern Virginians have said they’re for the tax increases “if all the money stays in their neighborhoods for the roads they need,” Albo said.
McDonnell amended the bill last week to avoid legal concerns raised by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor running to replace McDonnell and a staunch opponent of the transportation package, said it was unconstitutional to raise taxes in some regions more than the rest of the state.
McDonnell avoided the issue by opening the tax hikes to all regions if they reach certain population and transit usage thresholds. Only Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads meet those guidelines now.
But opponents noted that Richmond could eventually grow to reach those standards and other regions could band together to raise taxes as well without state approval.
Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, who championed a successful legal fight against a 2007 transportation compromise, hinted Wednesday that another lawsuit could be in the works.
Marshall also chastised his colleagues for passing a bill that had no official financial impact statement attached to it. While the governor’s office has offered estimates, the last official legislative analysis on the cost and potential revenue came in early February, before the bill was completely reconstructed.
“This is very much like D.C.,” Marshall said. “You have to pass the bill to find out what you’re doing.”