This Week Critical For Virginia Transportation Bill

Gov. McDonnell's plan to scrap the gas tax got national attention. But the legislation's time is running out.
by | February 8, 2013

The prospects for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's ambitious transportation funding package -- which has received national from the infrastructure community -- were dealt a serious blow this week when the state Senate shot down its version of the legislation.

Last Tuesday, the state's House of Delegates approved McDonnell's plan, but a similar measure that had been introduced in the Senate didn't get passed. If both chambers had passed the legislation, the differences would have been hashed out in conference. Now, the road ahead for McDonnell's plan is much more challenging.

The Senate's decision doesn't necessarily kill the plan altogether. In theory, the Senate could still pass the House bill. But it's on a tight timeline, with the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn in just two weeks.

Given the fact that the Senate rejected its own version of McDonnell's proposal, it seems unlikely it would pass change course and pass the House's version of the same proposal, in its current form.

But Matthew Moran, a spokesman for House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, a Republican and sponsor of the McDonnell plan, said the Senate could still take up the House legislation and pass an amended version. At that point. conferees from each chamber would hash out the differences.

Howell's decision Wednesday to kill a redistricting plan touted by Senate Republicans will likely be seen as a olive branch to Senate Democrats, which Howell and McDonnell need support from in order to pass the transportation bill.

Since Howell dropped the redistricting plan, Moran says, "some of the conversations have started to happen again" between the parties on the transportation plan.

Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the Republican caucus of the state Senate, says the plan's fate will be determined next week. In order for the legislation to move forward, it would have to emerge from a Senate committee by Tuesday and be passed by the full Senate by Wednesday, according to the General Assembly's calendar.

State legislators also could move forward with another plan altogether, though time is running out. Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for McDonnell, says the governor prefers his transportation funding proposal over others that have been pitched this session, largely because it raises the most money. But he said McDonnell "would take a serious look" at other proposals that accomplish the same goals in different ways.


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