Our View: Impasse!
Posted: February 16, 2013
And so it stands: With the Senate’s approval of a rewritten transportation funding plan earlier this week, road-building in Virginia — the commonwealth’s most persnickety issue — avoided a premature death and, in fact, reached a committee of conference. That’s good.
Less encouraging is that the largely Republican House and the evenly divided Senate are diametrically opposed on how best to fund the roadwork — both maintenance and new construction — sorely needed in the state. If ever there were an impasse, this is the very definition of it. To wit:
What the Senate did, to get requisite “skin” in the conference “game,” was pass an amended measure that stands in marked contrast to the proposal favored by Gov. McDonnell and approved by the House. Whereas the latter eliminates the state gas tax and has as it funding centerpiece a .8 percent increase in Virginia’s sales tax, the amendment put forth by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, not only retains the gas tax but also increases it by a nickel. What’s more, it slaps a statewide 1 percent wholesale tax on gas and gives localities the option to levy an additional 1 percent tax.
Conceptually speaking, the Senate version is more in line with our way of thinking. Simply stated, we believe road-users should pay for upkeep and new construction. Mr. Wagner’s amendment essentially assures that they will.
Nonetheless, a majority of Senate Republicans — the 27th District’s Jill Holtzman Vogel among them — recoiled at the size and scope of the measure, particularly the tax burden involved. The Senate bill would generate $4.5 billion over five years, just through the statewide levies. An additional $3.8 billion could be gleaned if cities and counties exercised the 1 percent local option. Mrs. Vogel labeled this potential removal of more than $8 billion from taxpayers’ pockets “too rich” for her blood. She voted against the plan in the Finance Committee as well as on the Senate floor.
But such opposition pales in comparison to that holding sway in the governor’s office and among Republican delegates. Not only is the House plan less pricey — $3.1 billion over five years — but it also shifts transportation funding from a gas tax termed “stagnant” by Gov. McDonnell to revenue sources he says will “grow with economic activity,” namely the sales tax and an envisioned levy on Internet purchases still awaiting approval of Congress. Following the Senate vote on Mr. Wagner’s amendment, Mr. McDonnell said he would not countenance a gas-tax increase.
Hence the impasse as conferees from House and Senate get ready to meet. If neither side budges, Mrs. Vogel said Thursday, it’s “game over.”