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Conference panel will seek transportation compromise

Published 9:44am Friday, February 15, 2013

BY WHITNEY SPICER/CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
spicerwa@vcu.edu

RICHMOND—A conference committee of 10 legislators has less than a week and a half to hammer out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of a bill to increase transportation funding in Virginia.

The committee was named after the Senate on Wednesday passed a version of a House bill that differs greatly from the document approved by delegates last week.

As approved by the Senate on a 26-14 vote, the bill would raise Virginia’s gasoline tax from 17.5 cents per gallon to 22.5 cents per gallon. Western Tidewater Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, supported the measure.

In contrast, the House version of the bill would get rid of the gas tax entirely and raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.

The House version reflects Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposals for pumping more than $3 billion in road and transit projects over the next five years.

The Senate’s version of the bill would not provide transportation as much money from the state’s general fund as McDonnell originally proposed. Both the House and Senate versions would raise vehicle registration fees.

“The takeaway from today’s action by the Senate of Virginia on House Bill 2313 is that the discussion over transportation will continue right up until the end of the 2013 session,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment of Williamsburg.

Norment was one of the 14 Republicans who voted against the Senate substitute for HB 2313.

After the Senate approved its version, the bill went back to the House for consideration. Delegates rejected the Senate version on a 19-78 vote. Voting against was Western Tidewater Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton while Del. Rosalyn Tyler, R-Jarratt, favored the bill.

As a result, the two chambers appointed a conference committee to try to put together a bill both sides can agree on before the General Assembly’s session ends on Feb. 23.

McDonnell said that if the committee can agree upon “a fiscally responsible plan,” he will sign it into law.

Although most Republican senators voted against the Senate version of the bill, six voted for it. They were joined by all 20 Democratic senators.

The conference committee will have eight Republicans and two Democrats.

The House appointed as its conferees Rep. Dels. John O’Bannon of Henrico, Chris Jones of Suffolk, Beverly Sherwood of Frederick and Dave Albo of Fairfax, as well as Democratic Delegate Onzlee Ware of Roanoke.

The Senate appointed at its conferences Rep. Sens. Norment, Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, Walter Stosch of Henrico, and John Watkins of Powhatan, as well as Democratic Sen. Janet Howell of Fairfax.

“The task before these conferees will not be easy,” said House Speaker William Howell. “But I know they are committed to addressing Virginia’s long-term transportation needs.”

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