Governor submits changes to bill

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

RICHMOND—Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed an amendment to the transportation bill, House Bill 2313, which will mean a tax increase for local citizens and no say-so as to how the tax revenues will be spent.

If passed by the General Assembly, when it reconvenes this week, the amendment will subject the citizens of the City of Franklin and Southampton County to imposition of an additional retail sales tax at the rate of 0.7 of one percent – from 5 percent to 5.7 percent.

According to Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson, the county is not represented on the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), which is the organization responsible for approving transportation projects that will be constructed with the additional sales tax.

Franklin and Southampton are part of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (District #23) and have been for years. However, the organization that overseas the district is comprised of 13 out of the 16 members and Franklin, Southampton and Surry are not included.

Instead of creating new transportation planning groups, as originally proposed in the legislation, the Governor is proposing the original planning districts already in place, be used to impose the additional tax.

The new language in the bill reads as follows: “The moneys deposited in the fund shall be used solely for new construction projects on new or existing roads, bridges, and tunnels in the localities comprising Planning District 23 as approved by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization shall give priority to those projects that are expected to provide the greatest impact on reducing congestion and shall ensure that the moneys shall be used for such construction projects in all localities comprising Planning District 23.”

According to Johnson, the problem with this proposed amendment is that it allows for no seat at the table for this area to have a vote as to how the sales tax money will be used for transportation projects.

“It is fundamentally unfair to ask the people to pay a tax when they have no voice in how that tax is used,” Johnson stressed.

Johnson and Franklin City Manager Randy Martin participated in a conference call yesterday afternoon with Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. According to Martin, it was explained by Farmer that membership in the organization is set on the federal level and localities have to be designated to be a participant. “They confirmed they cannot add us as voting members,” explained Martin.

We need the funding – any source of funding will be appreciated. We don’t need to rely on the TOP for their goodwill,” he stressed. “There might be a mechanism to get us a seat at the table. Hopefully we’ll get some presence to comment on the use of these funds.”

Martin said he preferred the funds directly come back to the area and Franklin and Southampton be allowed to set their own priorities.

“It seems to be ill guided. They shouldn’t squash the small units in the process,” he added.

“I wish we had known earlier to prepare our citizens and elected officials adequately,” Martin continued. “Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and that’s a shame. Our citizens are not expecting this additional burden.”

Delegate Rick Morris, (64th District), said late yesterday that he was just getting into the language of the bill but that he wanted to “make sure I do what’s right for all localities that I serve.”

Jeff Caldwell, press secretary for the governor responded in an email, “If the governor’s amendments pass the General Assembly tomorrow, we intend to request that the TPO ensure that every jurisdiction that is a member of the Planning District has representation and a vote on matters involving policy, planning and programming of HB2313 funds.”