Governor’s roads plan up for debate
Posted: January 18, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Despite almost universal agreement that Virginia needs more money for transportation, not everyone is sold on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to raise revenue to accomplish that goal.
On Jan. 9, McDonnell called for replacing the state’s 17.5-cent gasoline tax with a 0.8 percentage point sales tax increase along with shifting current sales tax revenue to transportation.
The state’s road and infrastructure industry has been lining up behind the plan, which McDonnell says could raise $3.1 billion over five years.
Those displeased with the proposal, however, have a variety of concerns.
Robert “Bob” Claytor, president of Winchester-based fuel distributor H.N. Funkhouser & Co., is worried that out-of-state drivers would be able to avoid paying for the upkeep of roads without a gas tax.
“They won’t pay any tax unless they stop to do some shopping,” he said.
Claytor thinks it would be better to leave the gas tax in place and still increase the sales tax.
Others aren’t happy that people who don’t drive — such as the elderly — would be asked to fund transportation projects with the increased sales tax.
It makes more sense to make users of transportation infrastructure pay for its upkeep and new projects, said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council, which is active in Clarke County and eight others in Virginia.
“As people drive more, they’re putting more into the fund,” he said.
Holmes also said it’s wrong to target drivers of environmentally friendly vehicles, such as hybrids, for a $100 annual fee, as called for in McDonnell’s proposal.
Annual registration fees for all other vehicles would increase by $15 under McDonnell’s proposal and the tax on diesel fuel would remain in place.
While some oppose the governor’s plan, count Wayne Feigenbutz — president of Perry Engineering Company Inc. in Frederick County — as one of its supporters.
Perry Engineering does occasional transportation work for the state, but Feigenbutz said the number of projects has declined in recent years. He’s hopeful that the governor’s package could reverse that trend.
“Obviously, we’d be very much for that,” he said.
Despite its potential impact on them, Winchester area businesses haven’t been voicing a lot of opposition to the proposal to increase the sales tax, according to Randy Collins, president and CEO of Top of Virginia Regional Chamber.
General Assembly members who represent the Winchester area — aside from Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Frederick County, who has not responded to requests for comment in recent days — think McDonnell’s proposal is far from a finished product.
But they all concur that the General Assembly must come to some agreement that increases funding for transportation.
“The General Assembly has to do something to address the mounting shortfall in the current transportation revenue formula,” Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, said in an email earlier in the week. “My sense is that parts of the plan will change substantially before we ever get to a vote.”
Winchester-area legislators aren’t overly concerned with the plan’s shifting of about $800 million of current general fund money to transportation — which most Democrats believe would shortchange other programs like education, health care and public safety.
Joe May, R-Leesburg, called it “a pretty modest amount [that would be shifted].”
Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, thinks the general fund exists to fund core purposes of the state government.
“Transportation is definitely a core purpose,” he said.
Despite signing the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to never raise taxes, Minchew said that won’t affect how he votes on a transportation package.
“The pledge that’s really important is the one we take when we’re sworn in to protect and uphold the Virginia Constitution,” he said.
— Contact Conor Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org