Gov. Bob McDonnell made few substantial changes to the massive tax hike legislation needed to pay for long-delayed roadwork across Virginia and largely went along with a bipartisan agreement to expand Medicaid to provide health care to 400,000 additional Virginians.
The Republican leader had until midnight Monday to veto, approve or amend bills before the General Assembly returns to Richmond next week to consider his proposed changes.
The historic transportation package that lawmakers approved earlier this year will raise $3.5 billion in new taxes to pay for the work, including $1.5 billion for Northern Virginia transportation projects over the next five years. The statewide sales tax will rise from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and as high was 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
McDonnell's amendments include a change that would allow other areas of the state to raise more road money through tax increases once those areas reach certain population thresholds. That opens the possibility of the Richmond area eventually getting additional taxing power.
By opening the taxing authority to the entire state, McDonnell believes he has avoided constitutional concerns raised by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican candidate for governor and an opponent of the transportation bill.
Cuccinelli said last week that lawmakers could not impose higher tax burdens on specific regions, like Northern Virginia.
McDonnell also lowered the fee on alternative fuel vehicles from $100 to $64 and pared down new tax increases on buying a vehicle, selling a home and staying in a hotel. Those changes did not significantly decrease the revenue raised in the bill.
McDonnell also kept in place a plan to expand Medicaid in the state to ensure that low-income residents have access to health care under President Obama's health care reforms. A legislative panel will monitor reforms to the federal-state health care program.
Cuccinelli also questioned the constitutionality of that panel. McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said they believe the changes meet Cuccinelli's concerns.