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Mcdonnell's transportation plan hits pothole in Senate

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By Landmark News Service

RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding plan hit a pothole in the Capitol on Tuesday, failing to win support in the politically divided state Senate.
McDonnell’s plan and two Republican-sponsored alternatives were defeated in the Senate, hours after the House of Delegates narrowly approved a revised version of the governor’s bill. The House bill will be sent to the Senate, where McDonnell and his allies have their work cut out for them trying to keep the legislation alive.
McDonnell’s proposal cratered after the Senate rejected a substitute introduced by Sen. Steve Newman, (R-Lynchburg) and another alternative from Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach). After those proposals failed, with all 20 Senate Democrats opposing them, the Senate used a procedural move to kill McDonnell’s original bill on a voice vote.
Tuesday was the deadline for the Senate to act on its own legislation.
“This has been a long day, and it’s probably time to put this thing out of its misery,” said Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County.
McDonnell blasted Senate Democrats after the vote, saying: “Their partisan, lock-step opposition to fixing transportation is incredibly disappointing.”
“Sadly, the Senate Democrats appear to be the ‘Party of No,’” McDonnell said in a statement issued by his office.
McDonnell’s original proposal would eliminate the state’s 17.5 cents per-gallon tax on gasoline, increase the retail sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent and increase vehicle registration fees to generate revenue for roads and transit. McDonnell also wants to shift revenue from the state’s general fund, which pays for services such as education and public safety. The total package would produce $3.1 billion in additional transportation funding over five years, the administration said.
Newman, the Senate sponsor of McDonnell’s bill, would have scrapped the proposed sales tax increase and instead imposed a 5.5 percent tax on the wholesale price of gasoline. Newman had hoped that preserving a state tax on gasoline would win votes in the Senate.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, had endorsed Newman’s plan, calling it the “best chance to get the votes needed to make improvements to Virginia’s transportation system.”
“This is a bill probably is a bill that doesn’t go far enough for some, and I know from talking to others it goes too far,” Newman said before his proposal died on a 22-18 vote. Republicans John Watkins of Powhatan and Emmett Hanger of Augusta County joined Democrats in voting against Newman’s proposal.
Wagner’s alternative would have applied an 8 percent tax to the wholesale price of gas and the total package could have produced nearly $1 billion a year for transportation by 2018, he said. Wagner’s proposal got only seven votes, and he blew his stack after Saslaw said it wouldn’t produce enough revenue.
“Well, what is good enough? Where is it?” Wagner fumed.
Senate Democrats said they also remain opposed to proposals that divert money from the general fund to transportation.
“We’ve acted on the same principles that we’ve acted on for years – protect the general fund, have a dedicated source of revenue for transportation and have it be meaningful,” said Sen. Donald McEachin, (D-Henrico County), chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Earlier in the day, the Republican-dominated House passed a slightly revised version of McDonnell’s transportation package by a vote of 53-46. Four Democrats cast key votes to provide the majority needed to get the bill passed.