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With GOP split, Dems hold cards on roads bill fate

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm •  Published: February 21, 2013

Among those who said they were on the fence were Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, whose Hampton Roads region desperately needs relief from traffic congestion, but said he was being pressured heavily by both sides.

"There are some people who are not for any kind of tax increase under any circumstance, there are some people who haven't made up their minds yet, and there are some people who are very much for it," he said. "I haven't read the bill yet. I want to do that before I make up my mind."

Under the transportation compromise, the state's 17-½ cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax would be replaced with a 3.5 percent tax collected at the wholesale level and a 6 percent levy on diesel fuel. The general sales tax would climb from 5 percent to 5.3 percent. The titling tax on new car purchases would increase from 3 percent to 4.3 percent. Buyers of new fuel-stingy hybrid cars would pay an additional $100 fee.

And the share of the existing sales tax that is dedicated to transportation would increase over four years from .5 percent to .675 percent, shifting about $200 million annually away from the general fund after a four-year phase-in.

Conservative Republicans rallied their opposition to it Thursday, including Grover Norquist, who heads the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform, and Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's crusading conservative attorney general and the presumptive Republican nominee for this year's governor's race.

Del. Rob Bell was unequivocal in his opposition.

"The increased revenues amount to a tax increase, and I will be voting against it," said Bell, R-Albemarle, a Republican seeking his party's nomination for attorney general.

His rival for the attorney general nomination, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, wasn't as emphatic but said it's "going to be a challenge for me to get there and support that."

But in a twist indicative of the strange political alliances that have taken shape over the bill, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor is allied with McDonnell in support of the transportation plan.