Key Vote on Transportation Funding Plan Friday
For the first time in 27 years, the Virginia General Assembly is on the cusp of reaching an elusive agreement on a long-term transportation funding package. House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a conference committee report that will generate approximately $880 million in statewide transportation funding by 2018. The comprehensive package also includes a regional component that will allow Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to capture additional revenues for their traffic clogged regions.
Major Statewide Provisions:
●Elimination of the state's current 17.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax
●A 3.5 percent tax on gas at the
wholesale level and a six percent tax on diesel.
●An increase of the titling tax
●A $100 fee on alternative fuel vehicles.
●Dedication of a substantial portion from future revenue generated from Internet sales pending Congressional approval of the Marketplace Equity Act. If the MEA is not passed, the revenue would be replaced by an additional 1.6 percent tax applied to the wholesale tax on gas.
●An increase in the amount of General Fund money dedicated to
transportation from .50 percent to .67 percent.
On Wednesday evening, Governor McDonnell issued a press release stating that lawmakers have a collective opportunity to solve one of Virginia's "most intractable and long-standing problems." See more here.
Significance: This funding package will provide a dynamic, sustainable source of revenue that will grow with the economy and inflation. In addition, this legislation will provide over $500 million to eliminate the current practice of crossover or the diversion of money for new construction to highway maintenance. Finally, this legislation contains dedicated funding for the Mass Transit and Intercity Passenger Rail Fund that will support the expansion of passenger rail from Lynchburg to Roanoke.
Timing is everything
As the General Assembly session nears its scheduled Saturday adjournment, House and Senate budget negotiators are continuing their efforts to reconcile competing positions on the expansion and reform of the state's Medicaid program. The Governor re-entered the fray on Wednesday with a letter reinforcing his conditions for expansion. The Governor wrote:
"Please understand that I cannot and will not support consideration of an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia until major reforms are authorized and completed, and until we receive guarantees that the federal government's promises to the states can be kept without increasing the immoral national debt"
McDonnell's warning came after the Commonwealth received tentative federal approval to move forward on a host of reforms to simplify the administration of the program and to improve health care delivery. However, the letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid outlined areas that will require additional negotiation. See more here
House Republicans have also urged caution, stating that they want to see what unfolds in Washington over the next several months before approving expansion. The Senate position couples expansion and reform, allowing the state to move forward with expansion in 2014. In support of the Senate timetable, House Democrats repeatedly referenced Republican Governor Rick Scott's recent decision to begin Medicaid expansion in Florida.
Other Issues to Watch
Delegate Woodrum Remembered
Texting Bills Head to Governor
On Tuesday, the Senate approved legislation (HB1907) that will elevate texting-while-driving to a primary offense and dramatically increase the fines on violators from $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent offense to a fine of $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense. The bill also creates a mandatory minimum fine of $500 for those convicted of reckless driving if the person was shown to have been texting at the time of the offense. The House is considering similar Senate legislation (SB1222). Supporters point out that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in accidents. The Governor has expressed reservations about this legislation, stating that Virginia already has general laws against reckless driving and improper driving and does not want to single out particular conduct.
Senate Tables Procurement Notice Bill
Meeting the same fate as similar legislation in 2012, Delegate Ron Villanueva's (R-Virginia Beach) bill (HB1823) to give local governments the option to publish procurement notices on the Department of General Services' central procurement website instead of of the newspaper was defeated in the Senate Committee on General Laws & Technology. Villaneuva's bill had the backing of several local governments and the McDonnell Administration but was opposed by the Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.
New Poll Confirms Close Race
According to a new Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, the contest to succeed Governor McDonnell remains deadlocked with Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli each receiving 38%. The poll also reveals that 21% of voters remain undecided. Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, who will announce his decision about pursuing an Independent bid for Governor, continues to lag behind at 13%. Should Bolling enter the race, McAuliffe edges slightly ahead of Cuccinelli, 34% to 31%See more here.
Bolling Finding Independent Voice
On March 23rd, Republican candidates for Attorney General and Lt. Government will debate at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. Up first, AG candidates Senator Mark Obenshain (Harrisonburg) and Delegate Rob Bell (Charlottesville), followed by the seven GOP candidates for Lt. Governor. The event will be streamed here.
Anxiety Mounting over the Sequester
Earlier this week, Governor Bob McDonnell sent an urgent letter to President Obama requesting that immediate attention be given to address looming budget cuts or sequestration contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Describing the budget cuts as a 'haphazard idea and a 'blunt and unnecessary instrument,' Governor McDonnell outlined the negative impact that potential defense and other agency cuts would likely have on Virginia's economy. As the Governor points out in his letter, Virginia is particularly vulnerable to federal spending cuts:
-Virginia won 16% of all federal contracts in 2011.
-Virginia has 6% of all federal workers.
-Virginia has 19 military establishments, 90 federal facilities, 550
federal government owned or leased properties, and 25,000 federal contractors.
Alternative Currency Bill Dispatched by Senate
A House approved resolution (HJ590) that would establish a joint subcommittee to explore whether the Commonwealth should adopt a metallic-based monetary unit to serve as a contingency currency was rejected by voice vote the Senate on Tuesday. Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) submitted the resolution based on his growing concern that Virginia was not adequately prepared for a major financial meltdown caused by hyperinflation, cyber attacks, and/or potential mischief by the Federal Reserve. Noting her opposition to the bill, Senator Janet Howell (R-Fairfax) posed a pressing question: "Do we want to be ridiculed on Saturday Night Live again?"