I received many letters and emails regarding the transportation bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly on February 23, 2013. After considerable thought, and consultation with the Governor’s office and my colleagues in the House and Senate, I decided to support this bill, because it represents a significant step forward in our efforts to address transportation funding challenges in the Commonwealth.
Unlike the Governor’s proposal, the bill retains gasoline taxes as the basis for funding transportation, though not to the extent that I desired. It is not a perfect bill, but is substantially better than what the Governor proposed in January of this year. It accomplishes many important things, not the least of which is the raising of approximately $1.4 billion per year in new money for construction, maintenance, transit, and rail. For the first time in Virginia history, we will have a dedicated source of revenue for intercity passenger rail, something many of my constituents believe is very important, in light of the efforts we have made to support the Lynchburg-Charlottesville-Washington train. This dedicated source of revenue will ensure that the Northeast Corridor train, so important to Charlottesville travelers, will continue to operate for many years to come. But beyond that, it opens up the possibility of rail service to Roanoke, and enhanced train service in the Norfolk to Richmond and I-95 corridors.
The bill also provides substantial new monies for transit operations, which are key to assisting people in getting to work and providing critical support to urban areas in the Commonwealth.
The bill provides significant dollars to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas of the state, by allowing them to raise additional revenues for transportation that they can use in these regions. It enhances economic activity, most notably by creating, for every $1 billion of construction spending, approximately 35,000 jobs.
While I do not believe the bill is ideal, it represents a solid step forward and one we would have thought impossible a month ago. We will have the opportunity to modify the bill in the years ahead, and one change I hope to be able to make is to eliminate the tax on hybrids and to restore some of the emphasis on gasoline tax that has been lost in the bill.
In the bill’s final version, the 17.5¢ per gallon gasoline tax was eliminated, and instead a new tax at the wholesale level was substituted. There is some belief that this may lead to a minor reduction in gasoline prices at the pump, but that remains to be seen, and we will only know after the bill takes effect on July 1, 2013.
Despite my opposition, the bill also transfers some monies from the General Fund that we typically use for education, health and public safety, but in lesser amounts than what the Governor proposed. This is an area that we need to revisit in the coming years, because we need to increase our funding for education and we need sufficient funds to do so.
If you are interested, the text and video of my speech given during the debate on the transportation bill can be found on my here.
I appreciate your input on this critical issue, and look forward to any further questions you may have on the initiative.