February 20, 2006
Virginia's House and Senate have approved their own versions of the state budget, and the main difference in the two plans is the how they will come up with money for transportation.
The House and Senate have already unveiled two competing plans to spend about $2 billion that the state will cover over the next two years. Now a big debate is brewing over transportation. In the next few weeks the House and the Senate have a lot of questions to answer about this budget, whether to raise taxes and how much to spend on transportation improvements.
"It's going to be very challenging for the two sides, which are in very different places, to come to an agreement," said Sean O'Brien of the Sorensen Institute.
The House, which has proposed a $500 million a year road plan, said they will not use new tax money to pay for it. On the other hand, the Senate, which wants to spend $1 billion a year on transportation, plans to propose new taxes on gas, as well as home and car sales.
O'Brien said it's going to be difficult for the House to come up with the money if they refuse to tack on a new tax.
"It's hard to imagine them being able to do it without looking to some new revenue or making really hard choices in cutting other programs," said O'Brien.
But the House and Senate must try to work out a compromise. They have until the end of the general assembly session, which is March 11, 2006, but some officials are skeptical. They think it's going to take more than the normal meetings to bring these two opposing parties together.
"It's very likely that this year there is going to have to be some sort of a special session to address transportation issues," said O'Brien.
The House will be using part of their $1.4 billion surplus for the road projects that are already currently in the works. The Senate is proposing to use the new taxes to fix longterm transportation problems. Transportation funding has become a hot-button issue in this year's general assembly mostly because of Tim Kaine, who held 13 town hall meetings across Virginia to discuss traffic congestion.