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Roanoke Free Press
Monday, January 28, 2013

House Democrats push for bipartisan transportation solution

Typical traffic mix on I-81 at the Hollins exit ( 147) looking northToday in a Richmond press conference Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates announced their support for what they called a bipartisan approach that would address Virginia’s transportation needs.

There is no mention of increasing the sales tax or eliminating the gas tax as proposed by Governor McDonnell. The Governor’s plan siphoned additional money from the General Fund. Democrats want a 5% gas tax at the wholesale level.

Democratic House Leader David J. Toscano (D- Charlottesville) and Delegates Vivian Watts (D- Fairfax), Matthew James (D- Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Ken Plum (D- Fairfax), spoke on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus and proposed a solution based on the following principles:
  1. It must generate at least $1 billion in new money per year.
  2. It should rely on a realistic, dependable source of revenue, based on our actions, not those of the Congress.
  3. It should not transfer monies that otherwise fund schools, health care and public safety.
  4. It must fund not just maintenance, but construction, rail and transit.
  5. It must provide additional revenue both immediately and into the future.
  6. It must give authority to Northern Virginia & Hampton Roads to raise additional funds for their own transportation needs.

Specific measures, contained in both Republican and Democratic bills, that the House Democratic Caucus supports, include:

  1. A 5% wholesale gas tax (contained in HB1677, HB1878, HB2063, HB2179, HB2253 and HB2333).
  2. Allowing urban areas to raise transportation funds (HB1450, HB1472, HB1633, HB2063, HB2253, and HB 2333).

Delegate Vivian Watts, former Secretary of Transportation, emphasized the importance of raising enough funds to address not just maintenance but new construction, rail and transit. “Our reading of the Governor’s proposal gives us serious concern about how much additional funds, if any, would be available for new construction and transit in his proposal. We believe the only viable answer must include a 5% wholesale gas tax” she said.

House Democratic Leader Delegate David Toscano, the Democratic Leader in the House of Delegates, concluded “The Governor has proposed a plan, and realizes that new revenues are needed to solve the problem. If we take the best of his plan and combine it with other Republican and Democratic proposals, we can produce something significant and long-lasting for Virginia’s businesses and families.”

Delegate Matthew James (D- Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Delegate Ken Plum (D- Fairfax) spoke about the need to work in a bipartisan fashion and highlighted Republican proposals that have broad support in the House Democratic caucus.

“To fix our transportation gridlock, we need to fix the political gridlock that has prevented us from coming together and enacting real solutions.  Allowing local jurisdictions to raise additional revenue to advance critical infrastructure projects is a sound idea and is more effective than Richmond making decisions for impacted communities,” said Delegate Matthew James.  “We need adopt the best solutions, irrespective of Party, irrespective of the politics.”

“There are several Republican and Democratic measures that would raise additional revenue from those who use the Commonwealth’s transit system for personal or commercial purposes and would not burden citizens who make minimal use of the transportation system,” said Delegate Ken Plum. “The people of the Commonwealth have made it clear that they want a resolution to the transportation problem this year.  They have also made it clear that they don’t care which political party gets the credit, or who wins or loses, and expect a bi-partisan effort to achieve real solutions.”

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