House, Senate reach transportation compromise
Negotiators from both the House and Senate came to an agreement Wednesday on a transportation plan that, if passed, would be the first transportation funding overhaul in Virginia since 1986.
"This is a huge moment for Virginia,” said Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, a member of the conference committee. “We are on the cusp of bringing home real and lasting transportation solutions that will move Virginia forward now and in the future.”
The transportation compromise, which was hammered out by a 10-member conference committee over the past week, would potentially raise close to $900 million a year in transportation revenue.
The plan reduces the state’s gasoline tax by replacing the current 17.5-cent-per-gallon tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale gas tax. The tax on diesel would be 6 percent.
Although McDonnell had initially proposed eliminating the gas tax altogether, he expressed satisfaction with this substantial cut.
“When we launched our effort to fix transportation, we called for decreasing Virginia’s reliance on the steadily decreasing transportation revenue source of the gas tax,” the governor said. “The plan agreed to today achieves that goal.”
According to McDonnell, the new plan would reduce the amount that Virginians pay at the pump by an estimated 6 cents per gallon. He said this would add up to almost $272 million per year saved by motorists.
The plan compensates for the decrease in gas tax revenue by proposing to raise the state’s sales tax from the current 5 percent to 5.3 percent.
“Tying transportation funding to a tax that every Virginian pays is a common-sense move,” McDonnell said. “In addition, the sales tax is a less regressive tax than the gas tax.”
According to Delegate Beverly Sherwood, R-Frederick, this will help relieve the burden on families in rural areas who are affected by the gas tax.
“By reducing and replacing the current gas tax with a wholesale tax, we will reduce the gas tax burden on Virginia families,” Sherwood said. “This plan addresses the long-term needs of both rural and suburban areas of the commonwealth without unfairly increasing the burden on Virginia families.”
The negotiators also agreed to devote 0.675 percent of the state’s general-fund revenues to transportation. That is less than the 0.75 percent proposed by McDonnell and the House of Delegate; however, it is more than the 0.55 percent the Senate proposed in its previous version of the transportation overhaul plan.
Delegate Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, the only Democratic delegate on the conference committee, said Senate Democrats originally wanted to limit transportation’s share of the general fund to 0.55 percent because they worried that a higher percentage would take money from other public services, such as education and law enforcement.
“Throughout this process, it has been important to our party to develop a long-term solution that generates enough revenue to adequately address our needs without stripping funding to other core government services,” said Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke.
But McDonnell maintained that transportation is vital to the prosperity of Virginia and deserves a high priority.
“Transportation must be treated like a core function of government, and it must share in our growth in general fund revenues to a greater extent than currently structured,” he said.
Throughout the legislative session, a proposal of impose tolls on interstate highways in Virginia has been at the center of the transportation debate. Although reports have stated that restrictions on imposing new tolls are included in the conference report, specific language has not been announced yet.
The conference committee’s 98-page compromise now must win approval from both the House and the Senate before it can be signed into law by the governor. With the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, legislators will be cutting it close to pass the transportation bill this session.
“This is a moment to find common ground and get results for the people of Virginia,” McDonnell said. “It is why they sent us here. Not to argue and posture, but to cooperate and solve problems.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.
The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.
But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.
That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarThe Fairfield Middle School Fresh Market will be held every Wednesday at the school, 5121 Nine Mile Rd., from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., through Aug. 13. All produce is… Full text