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State negotiators reach transportation deal

By Bob Lewis - Associated Press

RICHMOND -- Proposed reforms to the way Virginia finances its highways and bridges headed for a vote by the full House and Senate this week after legislative negotiators agreed today on an $870 million annual package that represents the first overhaul of transportation funding in a generation.

The negotiators -- five delegates and five senators -- signed off on a compromise that would replace Virginia's 17 1/2 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gasoline and 6 percent on diesel fuel, boost sales taxes from 5 percent to 5.3 percent, levy a $100 fee on hybrid cars and shift about $200 million a year in sales taxes to highway use in five years.

The proposal also increases the titling tax paid on newly purchased cars.

The same conference report heads to the House and Senate for a decisive vote as early as Thursday. While it's quite different from the version Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed six weeks ago, it would become most substantial policy triumph yet in the final year of his term if it passes and he signs it into law.

Virginia's transportation funding formula has been unchanged since 1986.

Lawmakers broke from their closed-door huddle smiling at the bipartisan accord reached after four days of talks.

"Even when we disagreed, we weren't disagreeable," said Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, who led the House negotiating team. "We worked very hard on an agreement and I think we've got a good package."

Gone from McDonnell's proposal was his proposal to increase automobile registration fees. McDonnell also sought to eliminate gasoline taxes altogether and replace them with an increase in the general retail sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.

There was no immediate response from McDonnell's administration.


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