By Whitney Spicer
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell has reason to celebrate after the House Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a key part of the transportation plan that he hopes will define his term.
“Our effort to enact a long-term solution to Virginia’s transportation funding challenges took a major step forward,” McDonnell said. “I am pleased that legislators from both parties voted in support of our plan.”
The committee voted 14-8 in favor of House Bill 2313, which would finance McDonnell’s plan, which he calls “Virginia’s Road to the Future.”
The 14 committee members who supported the plan included 10 Republicans (Delegates Richard Anderson of Woodbridge, Richard Bell of Staunton, Scott Garrett of Lynchburg, Chris Head of Roanoke, Tim Hugo of Centreville, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol, Bobby Orrock of Thornburg, Brenda Pogge of Yorktown, Harry Purkey of Virginia Beach and Ronald Villanueva of Virginia Beach) and four Democrats (Matthew James of Portsmouth, Joseph Johnson of Abingdon, Mark Keam of Vienna and Lynnwood Lewis of Accomac).
The eight committee members who opposed the plan included five Republicans (Delegates Kathy Byron of Lynchburg, Benjamin Cline of Amherst, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Bob Marshall of Manassas and Lee Ware of Powhatan) and three Democrats (Betsy Carr of Richmond, Eileen Filler-Corn of Springfield Vivian Watts of Annandale).
The committee’s action clears the way for the full House to vote on the bill.
“The can has been kicked for too long, and Virginians deserve a modern, well-funded transportation system that will get them to work and home on time, without delay,” McDonnell said afterward.
The transportation funding and reform package would invest more than $3.1 billion over the next five years into Virginia’s highways and transit systems. The plan also would make Virginia the first state in the nation to eliminate its 17.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which the governor said has been a declining source of revenue. Instead, the sales tax in Virginia would increase from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.
“With today’s vote, we are one step closer to delivering the long-term transportation fix that Virginians both want and deserve,” said House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford.
But not everyone was satisfied with the governor’s proposal. The House Democratic Caucus said the governor’s plan focused too much on road maintenance and not enough on Virginia’s infrastructure needs.
Hugo, who carried the bill along with Howell, said that he applauded his fellow delegates for offering alternative proposals but that he believed the governor’s plan would “stop the bleeding on the transportation trust fund.”
According to the “Virginia’s Road to the Future” website, launched by the governor this week, the transportation plan would provide funding for 158 highway projects throughout the state, including improving interstate paving, secondary system bridges and unpaved roads.
Although the bill overcame a major hurdle yesterday, it still must pass the House and Senate before becoming law.
“This first vote clearly demonstrates a growing, and bipartisan, consensus that transportation is a core function of government,” McDonnell said. “I look forward to continuing to work with legislators in both chambers, and from both parties, to see this plan passed into law, and get traffic moving again in Virginia.”
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.