Senate vote passes $880 million highway reform

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013
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But some Democrats took aim at it, too, including Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, who called it "overly complex and, in places, contradictory. I feel like it makes arbitrary distinctions between petroleum and diesel, between inefficient vehicles and efficient vehicles that, frankly, have no logical basis."

Aside from the $100 annual hybrid penalty, diesel fuel will be taxed at nearly double the gasoline rate.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria also scored the bill, saying it "represents bad economics and bad transportation policy" for weakening the link between fuel and highway use and revenue, and for moving part of the burden to the general retail sales tax on all merchandise except for groceries and medicine.

"That's what we should be doing to fund transportation — raising our gas tax. This bill hurts people who can least afford it. Virginians should not be forced to pay a higher tax for the clothes on their backs than they pay at the gas pump," Ebbin said.

One conservative Republican, however, overcame his aversion to taxes, saying his poor, rural region in southwestern Virginia would benefit more than it has in years.

"Do I agree with the (tax) increases that are in there? Probably not all of them. Do I feel it's perfect? I don't feel it's perfect, but do I feel that I could have done better? No," said Sen. Charles W. "Bill" Carrico of Grayson County.

The bill passed after a series of harrowing turns over its final 24 hours.

Democrats balked Friday after McDonnell had admonished lawmakers not to push for Medicaid expansion without deep cost-cutting and efficiency reforms first. After House and Senate negotiators agreed to form a legislative commission to oversee the reforms, McDonnell expressed his conditional support in a letter Friday night that satisfied Democrats.

But an overnight ruling by conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that the commission is unconstitutional angered the Democrats anew and threatened to doom the bill before House and Senate leaders edited the provision to make Cuccinelli's ruling moot.

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Follow Bob Lewis on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APBobLewis.