RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Ready or not, Virginia, you're hours away from new laws that affect the way you drive and how much it costs to do it.
The state's sweeping new transportation funding law takes effect Monday, changing gasoline and diesel taxes, imposing annual fees on hybrid and electrical cars, and boosting sales taxes on all conventional retail sales. A stiff new ban on texting while driving also goes into effect.
Under other new laws effective July 1, public schools across the state will start receiving letter grades from A to F on how well they teach students, just as schools grade pupils. And concealed weapon permits will no longer be open for public inspection.
Of the 807 bills that the 2013 General Assembly passed, Gov. that Bob McDonnell signed, and that become Virginia law, 742 of them kick in at midnight.
None will be felt more — immediately and on a daily basis — than the 2013 transportation reforms, the first overhaul of Virginia's failing 27-year-old system for funding its 58,000-mile web of existing highways and for building new ones to alleviate highway gridlock, particularly in Washington, D.C.'s congested suburbs.
The new law, now the top legislative legacy of lame-duck Gov. Bob McDonnell, will generate up to $1.4 billion per year through several adjustments to taxes and fees. Conservatives in McDonnell's own Republican Party railed against it as the largest tax increase in Virginia history, and two senior GOP House members lost their seats for supporting it, defeated by primary challengers with tea party backing.
House Bill 2313 passed with overwhelming Democratic support on the final day of the legislative session, creating a bizarre alliance between McDonnell and the 2013 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Terry McAuliffe, while the GOP nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, opposed the measure and nearly derailed it with an 11th-hour legal opinion.
One reason conservatives vilified the compromise was an increase in the state's share of the sales tax from 4 percent to 4.3 percent with larger increases due in planning districts serving northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for enhanced regional transportation projects exclusive to those areas. When local sales taxes are added, the total sales tax in most localities will increase from 5 percent to 5.3 percent, boosting the tax paid on a $10 item from 50 cents to 53 cents.
The new law reformulates the 17.5 cents-per-gallon fuel tax that hasn't changed since 1986, ditching the volume-based tax for one tied to cost. Starting Monday, a 3.5 percent tax will be paid on gasoline at the wholesale level — a cost that jobbers and dealers will presumably reflect in pump prices. In theory at least, that should reduce the cost to drivers of gasoline-powered cars by about 6 cents per gallon from existing tax, or a savings of $1.20 on a 20-gallon fill-up from the current Virginia average gasoline price just under $3.40 per gallon.
The new tax on diesel, however, is 6 percent of cost, something that chafes big-rig drivers and owners of personal vehicles that use the higher-priced fuel. At last week's average per-gallon cost of about $3.70 in Virginia, they stand to pay 4 cents more per gallon, or 80 cents more than the existing tax for a 20-gallon fill-up.
Gasoline taxes could increase to 5.1 percent unless a quarrelsome Congress enacts federal legislation allowing Virginia and other states to collect sales taxes on Internet or catalog sales involving out-of-state retailers by Jan. 1, 2015. The 6 percent diesel tax rate would not change.