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Votes

Column: Major Step Forward

The short 45-day 2013 General Assembly session was a roller coaster, but I am glad to have the privilege of representing our community and our values in Richmond. I again came to the Capitol hoping to bring some moderation, common sense, and compassion into a chamber that can sometimes be dominated by extreme partisan politics.

One area where we saw a version of success is in taking a step forward to deal with our transportation gridlock. The deep flaws in the Governor's transportation proposal united Democrats and Republicans in opposition to his unprecedented statewide tax increases, which would not even raise enough money for Virginia’s roads. A conference committee made up of Democrats and Republicans worked together to fashion a new proposal. I am proud of Democrats for putting aside partisanship in order to make the best of a bad process and work to pass a transportation package.

It has been a quarter century since we raised the gas tax, and 17.5 cents buys less than half as much today as it did then. As a primary source of revenue for transportation solutions, this poses a problem. As we move into the future, better fuel efficiency and new technology will continue to change our dependence on fossil fuels. Chaining this revenue source to cents on the dollar puts us in an untenable long-term position as a Commonwealth. Instead, moving that tax to the wholesale level and moving it to a percentage will allow us to ensure that a level or rising amount of revenue will be possible to fund our transportation needs.

Due to the nature of this legislation, we were faced with a single up or down vote. I voted yes because we cannot continue to push the idea of dealing with our decaying infrastructure and massive congestion further down the road. This plan gives us a regional package allowing us to keep Northern Virginia money here in Northern Virginia to fund those priority projects that will allow us to directly deal with the congestion we face. It also provides for rail and transit funding, a priority for our community.

That being said, I do have serious concerns about portions of this transportation package. One of the areas where this package does not do justice to our future is an increase of a $50 fee to become a $100 fee on hybrid and special fuel vehicles. This does the opposite of incentivizing the use of vehicles that place less strain on our air quality and help make a better environment for our future a reality. I join many of my colleagues in calling on the Governor to address this when he reviews this legislation before we return to Richmond in April.

Overall, this is a major step forward that came about in a bipartisan way. Democratic and Republican leaders compromised in order to move the Commonwealth forward instead of falling into the trap of partisan bickering.

Charniele Herring (D-46) represents Alexandria City in the Virginia General Assembly and serves as the House Minority Whip. For more information, visit www.charnieleherring.com or on twitter @c_herring.