The Commonwealth of Virginia's Ultimate Blog

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Senate Bill Seven Zero Eight

Typing it all out like that makes it sound more menacing, doesn't it? SB 708 is the Senate Leadership's transportation tax package, and it passed through the Senate on Friday 34-6, after over an hour of debate, which I had the pleasure of watching via the closed circuit TV capacity of the General Assembly Building. This post is mostly about my impressions of the legislation as formed by the debate. Go here to read Jim Bacon's assessment as to why this is the "The Worst of All Conceivable Solutions."

Every Senator, including Charles Hawkins and Ken Cuccinelli who started the festivities off, noted the bill was sure to pass by a safe margin. "I'm sure you won't be casting a tie-breaking vote on this one Mr. President [Lt. Governor Bolling]," said the Good Senator from Western Fairfax as he launched into his reserved questions for the Senator from Pittsylvania (Hawkins) and the Senior Senator from Fairfax (Saslaw). Saslaw did most of the legwork in defending the gas tax increase against the rhetorical assaults from Cuccinelli, Obenshain, and Martin. Seantor Watkins stepped out and defended the grantor's tax increase, though it understandably drew much less fire. Senators Hawkins and Deeds made interesting points about being the two members of the dirt road caucus (Hawkins: I'm the only one here who lives on a dirt road, which is off of another dirt road) and casting these votes for the sake of the entire Commonwealth and not their own self-interests. The strongest points made in favor of the bill came from Senator Marty Williams, of Newport News, and the Junior Senator from Virginia Beach, Senator Wagner, who tied the increased funding for Hampton Roads area projects is tied to promises made to the federal government which need to be kept in faith in calendar year 2006, or the region loose important federal matching funds and face future challenges in retaining the sizable presence of the U.S. military in the area. Williams also noted increased efficiency in VDOT over the past four years which should give those of us paying the tax more comfort.

I don't like this bill, but not because I just throw any tax increase out the window without really trying to get my head and heart around it first. I really just don't trust these large hodgepodge omnibus revenue packages which squeeze a little money here, pinch a little more from there, and shake down a few of the little guys. Senator Martin spent a good deal of his time talking about the queerness of the tax plan, and it's odd rebate structure, and Senator Cuccinelli joined in to say that the people least likely to fill out those forms and seek a rebate on their fuel purchases from the Tax Commissioner are those who are most in need of that money. Cuccinelli also stood up for those who would get hit hardest by the "abuser fees" and encouraged everyone to have a sense of compassion for those who'll end up getting hit by a ticket which costs his half a month's pay, when he's just driving the same speed that the rest of us do everyday up and down these highways.

I felt that the Senate's regular conservatives who spoke against this measure were very polite, very professional, and really kept the tone of the debate as just that, a debate. I was taken aback when Senator Tommy Norment, the floor leader of the Senate who is generally the guy who'll keep this sort of stuff over on the house side, put Martin in his sights and accused him of not having the right to ask questions for failure to submit his own transportation package.

The entire bill can be read here, at the General Assembly's website. Go here for the fiscal impact statement. Go here for the PDF version of the bill, which is the one that the members of the House who get their paws on this bill will have. There's a lot of interesting stuff in this bill, and people on both sides of both the aisles (moderate and conservative, D & R, even rural and suburban) have to pick up their pens and go through the bill, line for line, strike what they don't like, add what they'd like to see, and get involved in the debate.

And one more thing. Senator Fred Qualye threw out some numbers and said that the monthly burden on a driver caused by our new gas tax would be "the cost of one Super Value meal at Mac-Donald's, and looking around this chamber and looking at the people I see walking down the street out here in Richmond, I think everyone can part with one Mac-Donlad's Super-Value meal a month."


Riley Not O'Reily, who is Alfred to Vincent Thoms' Young Master Wayne over at TC, has the press release from Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mary Williams (R-Newport News).


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