McDonnell pitches transportation sales tax plan

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell made a direct appeal on Thursday to residents in some of the state's most congested regions to ask their lawmakers to support his transportation funding proposal.

McDonnell wants to eliminate the state's 17.5-cent per gallon gas tax and replace it with a sales tax increase of less than a penny on the dollar. Virginia would be the first state to eliminate the gas tax if the General Assembly approves the measure, which McDonnell contends is necessary to provide a long-term funding solution for transportation.

He said the gas tax is losing value against inflation and that a growing influx of more fuel efficient vehicles and those that don't use gasoline make relying on the gas tax unsustainable in the future.

The tax on diesel fuel - primarily used by heavy commercial vehicles that disproportionately damage roads - would remain, however. McDonnell's proposal would also impose a $100 fee on hybrid cars.

McDonnell held news conferences in Newport News and Herndon to tout his plan in front of local media, as well as on a conference call with media in Roanoke.

"I'm asking for help. Call your legislators and let them know you want better transportation infrastructure," McDonnell said in front of a bank of television cameras at Huntington Ingalls Industries, one of a group of businesses supporting his proposal.

Among other things, the five-year, $3.1 billion proposal would expand Interstate 64 between Newport News and Williamsburg. It would also provide additional funding for rail and transit projects, such as providing passenger rail service to Roanoke and funding the extension of the Metrorail line in northern Virginia to Dulles International Airport.

During his stop in Newport News, McDonnell also suggested that gas prices would be lowered under his plan and that motorists from Maryland and North Carolina might cross state lines to fill up their tanks and possibly stay to buy other items as well.

Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, who owned a chain of service stations, is among a group of lawmakers who contends that consumers will never see the full 17 1/2 cent decrease per gallon, saying gasoline producers won't allow such a sharp disparity between rival markets across state lines.

McDonnell's Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, has said the administration believes competition will drive the price down.