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Votes

Column: A Tough Transportation Vote

The 46-day legislative session drew to a close on Saturday, Feb. 23. As you know, transportation dominated the debate this session. The House and Senate passed separate transportation funding bills that were eventually combined into HB2313. I voted for the original Senate plan, which would have raised the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon and indexed it to increase with the cost of road construction materials, keeping the link between driving and road funding intact. On the other hand, the House proposal would have eliminated the gas tax, increased the sales tax by .8 percent to 5.8 percent, and diverted $283 million from the General Fund. Both plans similarly raised vehicle registration fees.

In my view the Senate plan was much better than the House version. The final conference committee report bill lowered the state gas tax by more than a third, weakening the link between driving and road funding. Just last week, the Republican-controlled Wyoming legislature teamed up with their Republican governor to raise their gas tax by 10 cents. To me, there is no reason that Virginia parents should pay a higher sales tax to clothe their children than drivers pay at the gas pump.

The new plan will have out-of-state drivers contribute less for their use of our roads than previously. It also increases the tax on wholesale diesel fuel to 6 percent; this was done to capture more revenue from trucks, which cause more wear and tear on our roads than standard vehicles. A rebate will be available for lighter diesel vehicles, including clean diesel vehicles. The plan does include a local .7 percent sales tax for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The money raised in NoVA will stay here for local and regional projects.

A provision in Governor McDonnell's original bill charging a $100 annual fee for all hybrid vehicles resurfaced in the conference committee report, even though that tax was excluded from the versions passed by both the House and Senate. This is a punitive tax. The typical hybrid driver won’t save more than $35 a year in state gas taxes, but the annual fee would have them pay an extra $65 to “make up” for them. There are many regular gasoline-powered vehicles that get better MPG than hybrids that wouldn't pay this new tax. Hybrids are more expensive, costing the owners higher titling tax revenues for the state and higher personal property taxes for localities.

While the final bill would raise significant needed funds for transportation, it was too bitter a pill for me to swallow. I oppose lowering the gas tax and increasing the sales tax and also find the new hybrid tax bizarre. For those reasons, and others, I voted no.

The bill passed both houses and is now with Governor McDonnell for review. He may decide to offer amendments. Delegate Surovell of Mount Vernon and I have started an on-line petition asking the Governor to remove the hybrid tax from the bill. If you’d like to sign, please visit www.NoHybridTax.com.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin can be reached at district30@senate.virginia.gov or 571-384-8957.