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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, January 20, 2006

Senate, governor to release road plans; A1

Today’s press conferences will highlight details

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

An advisory panel created by Senate finance leaders has recommended at least $831 million per year in new revenue from taxes and fees to help pay for transportation in Virginia.

The Statewide Transportation Analysis and Recommendation Task Force, convened last year by Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, has completed its work and has recommended the package of higher revenue and transportation policy changes to the General Assembly.

Chichester and other Senate leaders are slated to hold a press conference this morning to discuss the Senate’s plan to fix the state’s ailing transportation system.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tim Kaine will announce his plans at a press conference today at 3:15 p.m.

The fact that the two plans are being announced on the same day doesn’t mean that Kaine and Senate leaders have been coordinating their efforts.

“We’ve been too busy working on our own transportation plan,” said Kevin Hall, Kaine’s press secretary.

Leaders in the House of Delegates said they will announce their own transportation package as early as Monday.

The exact details of what will be in the Senate Finance Committee plan to be released this morning were not available, but both Chichester and Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham, key members of the START panel, were to be at the announcement, according to aides.

Items included in the recommendation, which was published on the Finance Committee’s Web site, include:

• Raising the vehicle titling tax by 1 percent to 4 percent, to raise $218.7 million per year.

• Extending the state’s sales tax to gasoline and other motor fuels. Had the tax been in place in calendar year 2004, it would have generated $334 million.

• Raising the state’s vehicle registration fee by $10 to $39.50 for most vehicles, which would raise $70.3 million per year.

• Charging sales tax on automobile repairs to generate $58.3 million per year.

• Higher excise taxes on tires and car batteries, hikes of $2 and $1 to raise $10.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

• Raising the “per gallon” tax on diesel fuel by 1.5 cents to 17.5 cents per gallon to raise $18 million per year.

Higher “per gallon” taxes on gasoline also are included in the recommendation, as are “indexed” gas taxes like those levied in West Virginia and other states, but the recommendation doesn’t include a specific hike or amount for either.

Also included in the $831 million is $111.3 million generated by permanently shifting taxes on automobile insurance to transportation and $8.3 million from raising the levy on car rentals by 1 percent to 11 percent.

Policy changes in the recommendation include better maintenance planning for the Virginia Department of Transportation, encouraging higher-density development at the local level and requiring local governments to provide connectivity between subdivisions before roads are accepted into the state network.

Some ideas that didn’t make the cut from earlier meetings included regional sales taxes and income taxes for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Discussions between key House and Senate transportation officials about today’s announcement were ongoing late Thursday.

Regardless of the specific content, any significant tax hike is likely to inflame conflict between the two chambers left over from the bitter budget fight in 2004.

During that marathon session, Senate Republicans and a handful of their House of Delegates counterparts voted with then-Gov. Mark R. Warner to approve a budget that raised taxes by $1.5 billion.