RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two Senate floor amendments that would have offered alternative Virginia transportation funding streams were rejected late Tuesday, leaving only a single House bill as Gov. Bob McDonnell's hope for a defining transportation reform legacy.
With nerves frayed after a 9-hour Senate session that stretched from mid-morning until after the dinner hour and both sides spoiling for a partisan fight in a Senate where each side holds 20 seats, prospects also looked bleak as the surviving plan arrives from the House 53-46 earlier Tuesday.
"I said I'd never get emotional over a bill and now I've broken my own damn word," a frustrated Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said after his floor amendment to replace Virginia's 17½ cents-per-gallon fuel tax with an 8 percent wholesale tax died on a 7-28 vote. Thirteen of his fellow Republicans opposed his bill.
A few minutes earlier, Sen. Stephen D. Newman's amendment to replace the declining 27-year-old volume-based fuel tax with a 5.5 percent tax died on an 18-22 vote.
McDonnell, in the final year of a non-renewable four-year term and hoping to become the first governor this century to enact a significant and sustainable new revenue supply for the state's underfunded roads, wants to generate an additional $3.1 billion over five years chiefly through raising the sales tax paid on all retail purchases. It, too, would end the per-gallon gasoline tax but leave it on diesel fuel.
The House bill would accomplish that, but it not only has the adamant opposition of Senate Democrats, some anti-tax Republican conservatives in the House and Senate oppose it because of its reliance on higher sales taxes.
Newman's amendment would have generated anywhere from $2 billion to $2.5 billion over five years. While conservatives — including tea party hero Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial nominee-apparent — warmed to it, Senate Democrats dismissed it as woefully inadequate. McDonnell on Tuesday labeled it "a whopping tax increase" that he would not sign.
Wagner's bill would have generated $3.8 billion for transportation by 2018, something Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw called a step in the right direction. But not one Democrat supported it.
"We sit here today and say, 'Ah, this bill isn't right. This isn't what we wanted. This isn't what we're looking for.' Well, where's the other substitute?" Wagner demanded, glaring across the aisle at Democrats.