A two-prong attack was launched Thursday by legislators pushing for new dollars for roads and transit with referendum plans for a half-cent sales tax in Northern Virginia and 11/2 cent sales tax in Hampton Roads, or a one-cent increase in both regions.
Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd, and Sen. Martin E. Williams, R-1st, of Newport News, have teamed up to sponsor the bills, aligning their delegations together for a better chance of passage. Northern Virginia legislators failed in their attempt last year.
“Why are we taking two different tactics?” Rollison said at the announcement. “Were going to take two different proposals to our caucus, allow them to discuss those proposals and see what we can work out.
A half-cent increase, or half percent on the current 41/2 percent sales tax in Northern Virginia, would finance $2.7 billion in bond projects, according to the bill. The 11/2 cent increase in Hampton Roads would finance $6.5 billion in projects including the “third crossing.”
Calling for more road dollars is nothing new for politicians from Northern Virginia, but with increasing deficits forecasted in the six-year plan between $400 million and $2.4 billion based on three forecasts the extra money could fill an emerging budget hole.
Transportation statewide now faces a $1 billion shortfall, of that $350 million is supposed to go to Northern Virginia, Rollison said.
Gov. Mark R. Warner on Thursday addressed the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which puts out the six-year plan, and told them that the plan is useless and more like a wish list, echoing the findings of a report issued by a General Assembly watchdog commission last fall.
Rollison said this “sobering” news that Warner gave was part of the reason for the one-cent proposal. “That was not done lightly,” he said. “The magnitude of the transportation crisis is still not completely revealed. And the amount of money we need to make up for just the cuts may not be as much as we can receive in a half cent increase … my goal is to first stop the bleeding,”
Three powerful men who were not at the press conference will have a say in the proposals viability.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, R, can rule on whether the transportation referendum bills are special legislation, which requires a two-thirds majority vote rather than a simple majority to pass the legislature. Rollison and Williams said they believe the bills a markup of previous legislation are worded to prevent being classified as special legislation.
Over in the Senate, Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-35th, helped kill a transportation referendum last year. He was short when asked about whether hell support Rollisons bill: “If it winds up with education attached to it.”
“Ive advised Senator Saslaw thats short-sighted,” Williams said. “Quite frankly, if I was a Northern Virginia legislator, Id have a hard time looking at my citizens and saying, I couldnt get what I want, so you get nothing.”
A transportation referendum bill, if passed, would have to be signed by the governor, and Warner on Thursday repeated what he has said since his campaign he would sign a bill if it comes to his desk.
In the House, an education referendum has been introduced by James H. Dillard, R-41st. In the Senate, a referendum for both roads and schools has been introduced by Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-29th.
“I dont know about the one cent. I dont know if that will fly or not,” Colgan said. “It depends on how it comes out of the House. Mine is a half cent for transportation [regionally] and a half cent for education [statewide], and if that passes, I think the Senate will probably [conference] these bills.”
Williams and Rollison said they are cognizant of the needs of education, and its referendum supporters should continue their push.
“Youre going to see all kinds of maneuvers on this legislation. It wont be any different from last year,” Rollison said.