The proposal resonates with local government leaders, particularly in the perpetually gridlocked northern Virginia suburbs and exurbs of Washington, D.C., which have had to step in on transportation where the state has not.
Scott York, a Republican and chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, brandished a chart from a survey showing that taxpayers most strongly dislike increases in residential property taxes. For that reason, he said, Watkins' proposal intrigues him.
"Note that the least favorite tax to be raised is the property tax," York said, "but the ... inaction by Richmond forces us to raise the property tax at the local level, and something has to be done. Unfortunately, right now, we're in the position in Loudoun County of discussing setting aside 2 cents of the tax rate for transportation."
Loudoun is among the nation's fastest-growing counties.
Legislative Republican leaders and GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is drafting his own transportation funding bill, greeted Watkins' measure coolly Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, R-James City County, called the proposal very detailed with many different components," saying he's eager for Watkins to provide "greater explanation on the benefits and implications of his plan."
House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, didn't reject Watkins' proposal, but said it seemed complicated.
"This has a lot of moving parts. If you're going to do something with transportation, it has to be simple and straightforward, maybe two or three components, not seven or eight," he said.
McDonnell's administration was even more noncommittal. The governor's chief spokesman, Tucker Martin, called it "one transportation plan of many that legislators will put forth before the session." McDonnell will review them in the context of his own bill and comment on them later, Martin said.
Watkins' bill takes dead aim at an unpopular McDonnell initiative to impose tolls on a stretch of Interstate 95 near the North Carolina border that's now toll-free. Watkins' bill would allow tolling on existing roads only with legislative approval.
"That's what persuaded me to do this," Watkins said with a laugh.