RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — A pro-business legislative watchdog is generally happier with the first fully Republican General Assembly in years, but it’s less than thrilled that lawmakers haven’t boosted funding for highways or repealed several business taxes.
The annual Virginia FREE evaluations for all 140 Virginia legislators for 2012 shows that the 87 Republicans on average scored higher on the 2012 business rating — 83.1 on a 100-point scale — than their 52 Democratic rivals at 69.1.
The business rating blends both the legislator’s raw 2012 voting record on important business issues with more subjective evaluations of individual legislators completed by leading business lobbyists who wield unsurpassed clout on Capitol Square.
With Democrats and Republicans holding 20 Senate seats each but the GOP in control by virtue of Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote, the Senate slightly edged the House in overall average business rating, according to an Associated Press analysis of the figures. The Senate finished at 78.4 while the House was at 77.7.
Seventy-one of the House’s 100 members scored a business rating of 75 or higher, earning the Virginia FREE superior ranking as “consistent pro-business” legislators, while 26 members of the 40-seat Senate reached that threshold. Twenty-seven delegates and 14 senators earned the middling designation of “frequent supporter” of pro-business views, while only two legislators — House Democrats Kaye Kory of Fairfax and David Englin of Alexandria — placed in the bottom grouping of “occasional supporters” of business with scores of 54 apiece.
No legislator scored a perfect 100 business rating.
Virginia FREE’s report calls out legislators for failing to pass substantial and sustained transportation revenue, including higher taxes, while lamenting that old taxes on businesses were left on the books.
“We began this session with hope that the General Assembly was ready to take a crucial step in the right direction” on long-term transportation funding, the organization wrote in comments accompanying its yearly scorecard. “Sadly, those hopes were quickly dashed regardless of the bipartisan effort put forth.”
The only significant boost to funding for highways since the 17½ cents-per-gallon gasoline tax was enacted 27 years ago came last year, when Gov. Bob McDonnell paired about $3 billion in debt with $1 billion in unspent transportation reserves.
“Last year’s initiative was just the beginning. This year’s effort was a failure. As a result, the burden continues to lie in the hands of an unwilling General Assembly,” the organization’s commentary said.
McDonnell’s administration is aware of the fast-approaching crisis. Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has said that without additional revenue, all transportation money will be used to maintain existing roads, leaving none for new highway construction.
“At a bare minimum, new money is required to meet basic maintenance needs, restore viability to the construction budget and ensure that Virginia is a viable partner with the private sector on (public-private transportation) projects,” the group said.
Virginia FREE was equally insistent that taxes on merchants, manufacturers and professions be eliminated and replaced with more broadly paid taxes and fewer targeted tax breaks.
Business lobbies for decades have sought the repeal of the pre-World War II machinery and tools tax and the Business Professional and Occupational License tax on commercial gross receipts that was put in place to help fund the War of 1812. Legislators have been reluctant, however, because Virginia’s cash-strapped cities, counties and towns rely on collections from those taxies.
Virginia FREE has about 500 members and is composed of individual business owners, corporations and trade groups doing business in the state. The organization does not lobby or contribute to campaigns, but provides its members with information services, including the annual legislative scorecard, political briefings and legislative district analyses.
Virginia FREE was founded in 1988 and includes a distinguished list of top executives from Virginia’s leading corporations.
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