Virginia lawmakers have announced an agreement on transportation funding proposal that will double the gas tax in some parts of the state. But lawmakers are rejecting Gov. Ralph Northam's request to do away annual vehicle safety inspections.
Lawmakers said Thursday that the House and Senate had agreed to increase the statewide gas tax by 5 cents a gallon for the next two years and then index future increases to inflation. In addition, the state will expand to the rest of the state a regional gas tax of 7.6 cents a gallon that's currently in place in Northern Virginia, the Interstate 81 corridor and the Hampton Roads.
That means the gas tax in some parts the state will go from about 16 cents a gallon to nearly 34 cents a gallon.
Lawmakers hailed the new compromise between the state House and Senate, set to pass the legislature before session ends on Saturday, as a way to increase badly needed transportation funding that also gives local officials a greater say in how that money is spent.
Northam and a new Democratic majority in the legislature have made increased funding for roads, bridges and public transit a top priority. Parts of Virginia, including the Washington suburbs and Hampton Roads, are notorious for their bad traffic. Democrats said the failure to increase gas taxes in past years have helped exacerbate the problem.
“This is an historic agreement that will give Virginians more time with their families and less stuck in traffic,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn.
Lawmakers also approved a separate bill to increase the state sales tax rate in the Richmond area, the proceeds of which would go towards transportation projects. The sales tax rate will go from 5.3% to 6%, the same rate currently used in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Republican Minority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert said the increase in transportation-related taxes, coupled with other parts of the Democrats' agenda, will take a noticeable bite out of many families' budgets.
“Virginians need to buckle up,” Gilbert said.
The plan announced Thursday also calls for lowering the state's current vehicle registration fee, which is $40.75 a year, by $10.
Lawmakers rejected Gov. Ralph Northam's proposal to do away with required yearly vehicle safety inspections, which the governor made a key part of transportation plan.
Northam said there's no evidence that the inspections have any positive impact on highway safety and are burdensome, particularly for lower income drivers.
But the proposal got little traction with lawmakers. Republican Sen Emmett Hanger said it was one of the most unpopular proposals with his constituents.
“They just thought it was a bad idea,” Hanger said.