Emotions High on McDonnell’s Transportation Plan

Virginia lawmakers kicked off a new legislative session Wednesday, and high on their agenda is the governor’s transportation plan to eliminate the gas tax.

“I have seen some screwed up bills in my life, this takes the cake,” State Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to raise almost $3.2 billion over the next five years relies on scrapping the 17.5 cent gas tax and hiking the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.

“I'd say the perfect is the mortal enemy of the good,” said bill sponsor Delegate Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax County. “We have a very good bill that can create jobs in northern Virginia and improve the quality of life for everyday folks.”

But even some fellow Republicans are already expressing doubts about the governor's plan. Anti-tax groups fear it could put a higher tax burden on Virginians, something Loudoun County Sen. Dick Black says won't fly in his district.

“My district is probably the most anti-tax district in the state,” he said. “I don’t vote against my constituents, but at the same time I think we need to give the governor a fair hearing.”

Saslaw said he's already heard enough. He argues eliminating the state gas tax gives out-of-staters a free pass when they travel through Virginia, while increasing the sales tax on residents.

“There is no reason for us to put the whole burden on Virginia, when one-third of the gasoline is purchased by out-of-state people and now we’re going to give them a free ride?” he said. “He could get the money he wants simply raising the gas tax by four or five cents per gallon. And this whole thing, this is the most absurd thing I’ve ever hear of.”

But McDonnell and the bill's allies say with greater fuel efficiency, gas tax revenues will continue to shrink -- so a new revenue source must be found.

“The gas tax is declining revenue because the cars are going to start getting 40, 50 miles per gallon, that’s what the government’s dictating,” Hugo said. “So what we’re trying to do is stop the bleeding on the transportation trust fund.”

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