Greetings from Room 405 here at the General Assembly Building in Richmond!
This past Wednesday marked the beginning of our 2013 session. Between now and February 23rd we will literally consider thousands of bills covering almost any topic you can imagine. Many of these bills could have a direct impact on our community if enacted. Please take the time to let your voice be heard on some of these issues by completing my 2013 Constituent Survey.
This year I have filed a range of bills, and will likely introduce a few more by the deadline next week. In particular, I have introduced legislation to give our schools more power to innovate while maintaining accountability, increase penalties for texting and driving that results in an accident, and provide incentives for private property owners to install water quality controls that will help Virginia meet its Chesapeake Bay clean up obligations in a more cost-efficient manner, just to name a few. I am also introducing budget amendments concerning the proposed closure of the Northern Virginia Training Center and to strengthen regional cooperation in Northern Virginia. Over the next few weeks I will provide additional details as these bills are heard before committee. In the meanwhile, you can click here for a full list of my proposed legislation.
Governor's Transportation Plan
No doubt, the big issue of the session will be the Governor's surprise announcement of a transportation reform and revenue generation package. To say that it is sweeping is an understatement. While I have my concerns with the proposal, it is refreshing that we are starting from the position of acknowledging that current revenue is woefully inadequate and that something needs to happen. Briefly, the Governor's plan includes the following components: (1) eliminate the current state gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon; (2) increase the sales tax by 0.8 cent; (3) redirect 0.25 cent of the existing sales tax from other services to transportation; (4) increase vehicle registration fees by $15; and, (5) impose a $100 surcharge on alternative fuel vehicles.
The Governor's rationale for eliminating the gas tax is that because of higher fuel efficiency standards and more hybrid vehicles the gas tax is slowly becoming obsolete. As for the surcharge on alternative fuel vehicles, his argument is that these vehicles still use our roads but do not pay as much in taxes. My concern with eliminating the gas tax is three-fold. First, about 30% of the gas tax is paid by out-of-state travelers, while the percent of the sales tax paid by non-Virginians is much less. In addition, consumers will not necessarily see a 17.5 cents reduction in the price of gasoline. Rather, prevailing regional market forces will likely mean that most of the "savings" will be absorbed into profits. It is the same dynamic that keeps prices from varying dramatically when crossing into North Carolina even though their gas tax is much higher than Virginia's. As a result, consumers may end up paying more overall. Finally, while it is true that there are more hybrids on the road and that cars are becoming more fuel efficient, gasoline is far from obsolete. In fact, hybrid vehicles make up only about 1.5% of all automobiles on the road. Regarding the surcharge on alternative fuel vehicles, that doesn't seem fair given the elimination of the state-portion of the gas tax.
All that said, we are starting from an entirely different point than previous sessions, and if there is a way to come up with a package that makes sense for Virginia, I want to be a part of that discussion. Please let me know what you think!
It is going to be a busy session. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope that many of you will consider joining me here in Richmond for my first annual Constituent Day. Visit my website for the date, which will be announced in the next few days. In addition, I will be holding my annual Town Hall meeting with Senator Chap Petersen on Saturday, February 2nd from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Fairfax City Hall. Hope to see you there!