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House, Senate make 11th-hour roads bill overhaul

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm •  Published: February 4, 2013
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But McDonnell's package was not only a target for the Senate's 20 Democrats, it also troubled conservative Republicans in the Senate.

"This was an opportunity on the right and on the left to perfect his legislation," said Newman, who sponsored McDonnell's original funding measure.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite who is unopposed for this year's Republican gubernatorial nomination, is among the GOP conservatives backing Newman's amended bill.

"The proposed sales tax on gasoline will replace a gas tax that is no longer the best means of raising revenue for transportation," Cuccinelli said in a release praising Newman's bill. The volume- based tax, unchanged since 1986, has atrophied as a revenue source because it doesn't track increases in gasoline prices and it declines as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and as people drive less. He said it also had a greater chance of passage than McDonnell's initial measure.

"I am comfortable with this proposal setting the current sales tax rate on gasoline at a revenue-neutral level," Cuccinelli's statement concluded.

There was also bipartisan grumbling over McDonnell's retail sales tax increase would have applied to staples such as refrigerators, shampoo and clothing — items lacking the direct tie to highway usage that a fuel tax carries.

"The governor's idea raised sales taxes on everybody and rewards people like me who drive gas hogs," Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, said of Newman's wholesale-level sales tax. "This is a more realistic approach to moving this ahead."

Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw said Newman's bill remains as unpalatable to his caucus as McDonnell's because both bills use money from the general fund, which covers such core state services as education and public safety, for transportation

In the House, partisan divisions were just as sharp as Democrats sought to amend Jones's proposal. Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, chided Republicans for suggesting the gasoline tax raises too little money.

"If it's such a horrible tax, I find that an odd argument coming from the other side," Sickles said.

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Online:

The Senate bill: http://bit.ly/XH5nkD

The House bill: http://bit.ly/14ALWhG