Insurance tax proposed to help roads

Northern Virginia could get $350 million toward improvements to its major highways and transit systems by using insurance premium taxes and matching local funds beginning in 2004, according to a billproposed Monday by Prince William delegates.

It is a bill that would benefit the entire state because it would send allcurrent insurance tax proceeds back to the localities they are generated in, provided the economy grows to replacewhere the tax goes to now, the general fund, said sponsors delegates John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District, and Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District.

Statewide, $100 million in insurance premium taxes are collected.

In Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the new cash stream could allow each region to leverage bonds if matched on a 50-50 basis from private or local funds.Rollison said potentially localities along Interstate 81 could team to take out debt, but that has yet to be worked out.

The plan is a basic reworking of the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000. It established a list of priority road projects to be funded by the insurance tax, but the economy’s downturn led Gov. Jim Gilmore to redirect the money to the state’s general fund.

“This depends on moderate economic growth in order to justify a transfer,” Rollison said. If so, localities would start seeing money July 1, 2004.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authoritywould control the money and could send up to $85 million to each of fourtransportation corridors:

— I-495 HOV/HOTtoll lanes;

— I-95/395 HOV/HOT lanes and bus purchases;

— I-66 widening and rail extension; and

— Dulles rail or bus.

The NVTA could also use the money for transit operations on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Legislatorsare unwilling to seek new funding for transportation in an election year right after the sound defeat of two referendums.

For education, it is much the same strategy: laying a path for more funding in future years rather than real dollars now.

Fairfax Countylegislators are getting behind proposals to increase the state’s share of education dollars to countiespenalized by their own wealth like Fairfax and Arlington that pay nearly 80 percent of their school costs.

The aim is to make the state’s funding formula for wealthier areas — who will still pay their fair share, said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, R-35th District. These proposals also depend on an economic recovery so that no funding is taken away from other localities, she said. Prince William with its strong growth will one day face the same penalty, she said.

Rollison and Marshall were against each other during House debates on thesales tax referendum last year. They played down those past battles Monday.

“We had the same goals, just different tactics,” Marshall said.

Delegate Robert Hull, D-38th District, of Falls Church said the amount that would go to Interstate 81 is a “pittance” of the need.

Rollison said the proposal is only part of the solution and is to be supplemented by private-public ideas like HOT toll lanes to widen the Beltway. A concept for I-81 is to separate trucks from cars and put a toll on the trucks, he said. Also,the federal government could put money toward I-81 in a precedent setting wayas part ofthe six-year reallocation of federal dollars taking place this year, he said.

“This [proposal] is a strong possibility. This could work,” he said.

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