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Sun Gazette: Legislators: Transportation Deal, on Balance, Was Maybe the Best Possible Print


Created:  Monday, February 25, 2013  7:17AM

They closed their eyes, held their noses and swallowed hard, but six of seven members of the Arlington delegation to the General Assembly voted in support of a sweeping overhaul of transportation funding across the Old Dominion.

“There’s a lot not to like about this plan, but on balance, it was about as good of a package we could expect,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), who along with the county’s three other delegates voted to support the compromise package.

“Sometimes you have to decide whether it’s better to do something or do nothing,” Hope said. “Doing nothing was unacceptable to me.”

The measure passed the House of Delegates 60-40 and the state Senate 25-15 in the waning hours of the 2013 session. Legislators headed home Feb. 23 after 46 days in Richmond; they will return in early April to address bills vetoed or amended by the governor.

Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), who voted against the original transportation bill in the House of Delegates, said he had “no hesitation” in voting for the package hammered out by conferees from the House and Senate.

“While there are elements of the transportation package that I disagree with, that comes with the territory when you’re dealing with an omnibus consensus measure,” Brink said. “On the whole, the bill has major benefits to Northern Virginia – those provisions clearly outweigh the bill’s deficiencies.”

Hope and Brink were joined in their support by Dels. Rob Krupicka (D-45th) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th). The transportation package also picked up the support of state Sens. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and Barbara Favola (D-31st).

“The commonwealth needs a dedicated and reliable source of revenue to pay for our growing transportation infrastructure needs,” Favola said.

“Although the bill is not perfect, on balance, I believe the plan will mitigate the congestion that affects our quality of life and costs us all in lost productivity.”

Favola also pointed to a 40-percent increase in the state government’s contribution to the second phase of the Dulles Rail project. “The emphasis on transit funding was an important part of my support for the proposal,” she said.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th) was among those voting against the measure, unhappy with the funding mechanisms, which shift the tax burden away from drivers and onto the general public.

The package makes significant changes to the nearly 30-year-old state funding scheme for transportation. The commonwealth’s gasoline tax is reduced, but the sales tax rises (to 6 percent in Northern Virginia, with a lower rate for food). There will be an increase in the tax on hotel and motel rooms in Northern Virginia, as well as a new 0.25-percent tax on home sales, which will cost sellers of a $500,000 home an additional $1,250.

Hope and Brink each praised the regional focus of the legislation.

“This creates a permanent funding source – about $300 million a year – raised exclusively by Northern Virginia that stays completely in Northern Virginia,” Hope said. “The regional component was far and away the biggest factor in my vote.”

Gov. McDonnell, who made reforming transportation funding a cornerstone of his last year in office, didn’t get everything he wanted, but said he would accept the measure.

“This is a compromise bill. It had to be. Neither party controls Richmond outright,” McDonnell said in a statement. “On an issue like transportation funding, regional differences and needs are just as important as partisan affiliation. If we were ever going to fix this problem, and improve our citizens’ quality of life, a compromise had to be fashioned.”

Most of the provisions of the legislation will go into effect with the start of the commonwealth’s new fiscal year on July 1.

The legislation closes one avenue for transportation funding that previously had been available to Northern Virginia jurisdictions, eliminating the ability of localities to impose a 1-percent income tax on residents.

That measure had been on the books for more than two decades, but required any locality to hold a referendum before imposing the surtax on income. No Northern Virginia government opted to test the mood of the electorate by holding a referendum.