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McDonnell's Transportation Funding Plan Dies In Virginia Senate

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Transportation funding in Virginia now rests on the bill in the state House.
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Transportation funding in Virginia now rests on the bill in the state House.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's major transportation funding plan that would eliminate the state gas tax died on the floor of the Virginia State Senate Tuesday night.

It became clear after a pair of Republican floor amendments were defeated that there was not enough support for McDonnell's transportation package. Divided lawmakers sent the five-year, $3.1 billion proposal back to committee.

The bill was largely blocked by Senate Democrats, many representing districts in northern Virginia, unhappy with McDonnell’s plan to use general fund revenue that also pays for schools, public safety, and other programs.

One of the amendments, a measure from Republican Sen. Steve Newman that would have replaced McDonnell's retail sales tax increase with a narrower 5.5 percent wholesale tax on fuel, was rejected on an 18-22 vote. A more ambitious amendment from fellow Republican Frank Wagner that would have set the fuel tax at 8 percent went down on a 7-28 vote.

"You know, I told myself in 22 years I'd never get emotional over a bill. And I'm sorry I broke my own damn word. I'm emotional. We've been fighting this for ten years. Ten years now," Wagner shouted. "I'm here tonight to get a transportation bill passed!"

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton was incredulous.

"On a day that the Texas Transportation Institute comes out with its nationally known study that says the Washington region, northern Virginia have the worst traffic congestion in entire country, the Senate Democratic caucus voted against every Senate version of transportation funding today," Connaughton says.

Democrats called Wagner's bill "a step in the right direction," but objected to using general funds that also pay for schools, health care and public safety. 

The House's measure that maintains most of the Governor's package will be taken up by the Senate next, but Connaughton says based on today's vote the measure is unlikely to pass.

"It was quite clear from the floor debate and from the fact they voted against every single transportation funding mechanism before them, and that they didn't even offer any solutions of their own, they have no intention of addressing transportation funding," said Connaughton.

Without some form of compromise, the General Assembly will close its session in three weeks without approving any new transportation revenues.

"The governor can send down a bill at any time. That's his prerogative, said Del. David Toscano, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House. "I would encourage him to find common ground among all the proposals that are out there ... there are a lot of them.

"It looks like if the governor is not willing to compromise on very much, nothing is going to get done," Toscano added.

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