The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Monday, January 23, 2006

Valley gives Kaine, Senate plans mixed reception; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — The two transportation plans introduced in Richmond on Friday got a mixed reaction from government and business leaders in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Senate Republicans and Gov. Tim Kaine both introduced plans to fix the state’s ailing transportation finance and highway system. Both would raise about $1 billion per year over the next four years and make changes to the way local governments handle land use issues.

Both also would contribute hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s general fund to transportation, but as “one-time” expenditures. They also would raise the sales tax on cars and trucks from 3 to 5 percent.

That’s one reason neither solution got a warm welcome from one valley automobile dealer.
Jim Stutzman, owner of Jim Stutzman Chevrolet, said calls to levy the full 5 percent sales and use tax on cars and trucks went too far.

“I think it’s unfair to target one industry,” Stutzman said. The Senate plan would put the onus for funding almost entirely on automobiles and the people who sell and service them, he said.

“We had a huge transportation fund back a few years ago that got raped by the General Assembly,” Stutzman said. Now that fiscal times are tough for roads, the Senate is in effect taking back the car tax relief that started under the Gilmore administration.

“I recognize that we have transportation issues in this state,” he said. But the 60 percent hike in auto sales taxes, “I think that’s a little aggressive.”

The tax has remained at 3 percent for several years, but the cost of a car has risen steadily over the years.

“I think you’d see a significant increase in revenue from the sales tax [over a period of years] on automobiles without having to change that rate,” he said. Hiking the tax would add a significant wallop to the cost of going to the dealership.

“When you make that kind of an increase on [a sale of $20,000 to $25,000,] you’re talking about adding an additional $500 or more,” he said. Changes to titling taxes and registration fees — a $10 or $20 hike from the Senate, a maximum $13 hike from Kaine’s plan — all add to an unavoidable tax burden, he said.

At the end of the day, people will pay the taxes, if passed, because they have no choice. “In the American lifestyle, we need automobiles,” he said.

While the fine print hasn’t been released yet, the package doesn’t look nearly as ominous to developers as had been thought, said J.P. Carr, president of the Top of Virginia Builders Association.

“I think this has a lot less to do with developers than it does than consumers,” he said.

Both plans contain changes that would affect the building industry, but they reflect practices already used in Frederick County and other fast-growing areas.

“I think it has an impact on everyone more than us. What Gov. Kaine is proposing ... is very similar to what is being done already,” Carr said. “We believe that the true problem with the transportation network in Virginia is that we’re playing catch-up for years of neglect.”

Officials in Frederick and Warren counties said they’d rather not comment on the proposals until they get the details, but some expressed hope.

“On the surface it sounds pretty good,” said Opequon District Supervisor Bill Ewing of Frederick County. “Frederick County is [already] looking at cluster development as a possible approach to development in rural areas.”

Whatever comes out of Richmond, it needs to help Warren County advance its major highway projects, said Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony Carter.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, introduced a third option Friday with much less fanfare.

Potts’ plan would raise the sales tax to 6 percent and use the money to pay for big-ticket items such as improvements to Interstate 81, a new crossing in Hampton Roads and the widening of Interstate 66.

It also calls for the creation of toll roads.

The House Republican Caucus is slated to introduce its plan on Monday.