City Council met with local representatives Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) and Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) Wednesday to discuss its legislative priorities in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The city’s legislative agenda was adopted by council at its monthly meeting last November. It outlines the city’s position on state-level issues that carry a significant local impact.
Included in the adopted agenda are requests to defer maintenance costs for the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Expansion Project and to alter the state communications sales and use tax rate.
Mullin and Mason had a mixed response to the city’s agenda, and said some requests could have a difficult time passing through the Senate and House of Delegates.
As Mayor Paul Freiling explained, the project to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel uncovered structural deficiencies in the westbound approach bridge and as it currently stands, cities across Hampton Roads would be responsible for the costs of those repairs rather than the Virginia Department of Transportation.
That’s because the structural deficiency repairs are classified as new projects rather than maintenance issues, Freiling said.
“The problem is that VDOT says it’s not their responsibility, it’s the region’s responsibility to come up with the money to pay for this,” he said. “I don’t know how you can call it a new project when it’s work that has to be done on an existing piece of infrastructure that’s been there for years.”
Mullin said members of the state House of Delegates agree with the city’s position.
“I suspect that — at least on the House side — that the House is going to look very closely at making sure that this is an upcoming maintenance issue, and not a new construction issue,” he said.
Another issue up for discussion was the state communication sales and use tax, which the city is petitioning to be set at the same level as the state sales tax rate. Vice-Mayor Doug Pons said this could offset a loss in revenue the city has had year over year as residents grow more reliant on audio and video streaming services.
Mullin said such legislation would be unlikely to pass through the House in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“We’re losing our revenue, and that’s people cutting their landlines and switching to other forms of communication, so that way, we can equalize it and get that same tax rate,” Pons said. “How you tax the internet economy is an ongoing issue and figuring that out is a long way away.”
Other items the city would like to see addressed in Richmond this session include support for the unmanned aerial systems project planned for York County, and protections from developers who fail to finish projects in the city.
The final agenda item was a request to move the date of future primary elections from the second Tuesday to the third Tuesday of June. Council member Ted Maslin said the switch would move elections into summer break for public schools, which would minimize disruptions posed by elections during the regular school year.
Mullin, who serves on the House of Delegates’ Select Committee on School Safety, said the date change was one of 24 recommendations made by the committee and is likely to gain bipartisan support.
“I suspect that every one of them will be able to survive at least the House side of the General Assembly without great controversy,” he said.
The 2019 General Assembly session will convene Wednesday, according to the state legislative information system website.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.