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American Shipper

Washington Notebook: Virginia transport politics, Commerce’s export awards

Va. Gov. McDonnell signs landmark transportation bill.   Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell last week signed the breakthrough transportation funding bill passed by the General Assembly in March.
   The “Virginia’s Road to the Future” bill, the first comprehensive transportation funding plan in 27 years, provides an additional $3.5 billion in funding by 2018 for new road and bridge construction, mass transit, rail and other needs, along with several reforms to improve project development.
   The bill, which goes into effect July 1, eliminates the 17.5 cent-per-gallon tax on motor fuels and replaces it with a percentage-based sales tax of 3.5 percent for gasoline and 6 percent for diesel fuel. More money for maintenance will come from a $64 annual registration fee on hybrid electric motor vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles and electric motor vehicles. The state’s sales and use tax will increase from 5 percent to 5.3 percent, with the increase also designated for highway maintenance and operations. The vehicle title tax will increase from 3 percent to 4.15 percent. Another $846 million is expected to be available once Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act, which has passed the Senate and would require out-of-state Internet retailers to collect sales taxes from customers for each state.
   More than $838 million will be allocated to the Transportation Trust Fund, with $35 million of that amount designated for the Commonwealth Port Fund. More than $1.8 billion will be allocated to the Highway Maintenance and Operations account to eliminate the practice of raiding the Transportation Trust Fund, which is supposed to go for new construction and upgrades.
   McDonnell jump-started the General Assembly into action with his proposal to replace the motor fuel tax, which is failing to raise enough revenue to maintain and improve the transportation system, with a 0.8 percent increase in the sales tax dedicated to transportation. One of the principles he was able to successfully articulate is that transportation is a core function of government essential to economic growth. Transportation had consistently lost out to education, public safety and other government functions during legislative budget making.
   At the signing ceremony, McDonnell praised both Democrats and Republicans for coming together to deal with infrastructure after years of stalemate.
   “Not only will this legislation address both the short- and long-term funding needs of our transportation system, it will also annually sustain 13,058 new jobs, have more than $9.5 billion in economic impact and improve Virginians’ quality of life… Most importantly, this legislation will ensure that Virginia’s economy can grow in the years ahead, and that businesses will have the infrastructure they need to create the good-paying jobs Virginians deserve,” McDonnell said in a statement.
   A recent study by Chmura Economics stated the price of fuel will drop about six cents per gallon once the fuel tax is adjusted, which will give Virginia the lowest gas prices on the East Coast and entice more drivers to purchase gas and other items from the state’s convenience stores.
   Virginia’s passage of a transportation funding bill could provide a template for the U.S. Congress on how to find new revenue for transportation when it looks to update the nation’s surface transportation bill and address declining revenue streams for infrastructure.

Commerce announces ‘E’ award winners.   The Port of Los Angeles’ Trade Connect program was honored with the 2013 President’s “E” Star Award for excellence in helping grow U.S. exports.
   Fifty-seven companies, many of them small and midsized enterprises, received recognition from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the largest group in three decades to receive the award.
   The “E” Award was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to recognize America’s exporters. The program is managed by the U.S. Commercial Service, which nominates the recipients.
   In 2012, U.S. exports reached a historic high of $2.2 trillion.
   Increasing exports to fill up the import containers at the Port of Los Angeles for the return leg has been a strategic priority for the port since 2007. The Port of Los Angeles has been very active helping educate local companies through workshops about resources for international trade, costs and requirements for exporting goods and services and matching them with foreign customers. Training ranges from introductory courses on the basics of commercial transactions, foreign markets, financing, documentation and logistics, to advanced seminars on international demand for specific products and emerging global consumer markets. Speakers include government representatives from federal, state and local agencies that promote and regulate trade, as well as industry experts.
   Since its inception in 2007, Trade Connect has held more than 150 workshops and events attended by more than 15,000 people, according to the port authority. The program also has participated in trade shows in Hong Kong and Japan and has drawn nearly 5,000 people to exhibits showcasing California companies and their products. Workshops are offered throughout Southern California. California products in demand around the world include food and beverages; fashion and accessories; medical, dental and veterinarian equipment and supplies; aerospace and aircraft parts; environmental remediation equipment; and health and beauty products.
   In response to a request from grain producers in the Midwest, Trade Connect staff conducted an introductory export workshop in Iowa last year. The program last year also offered its first workshop in Spanish and in April held its first workshop in Mandarin Chinese, the port authority said.
The “E” Award allows the port to fly the award’s signature blue and white banner, display its certificate of commendation, and refer to the award in advertising Trade Connect programs.
   This year, 37 companies were honored with the “E” Award for Exports for demonstrating a sustained increase in export sales over several years. Twelve companies that assist and facilitate export activities were honored with the “E” Award for Export Service. Five firms received the “E” Star Award for Exports, which recognizes previous “E” Award winners who have shown four years of additional export growth. Finally, three were awarded the “E” Star Award for Export Service, which recognizes previous “E” Award winners that have shown four years of continued support of exporters since first winning the “E” Award.
   Two companies are receiving the “E” Star Award for Exports for the second time, a first in the 51-year history of the program.
   The list of “E” award winners can be found here.  

Quip of the week.   “I’m honored to be invited to introduce the guest speaker and sit at the head table. I conveyed that appreciation to (folks at the VMA. Someone) said to me at the time: ‘Don’t get too carried away here. You’re the only member of the governor’s cabinet we allowed past the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.'” – Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore at the Virginia Maritime Association’s annual banquet May 9 in Norfolk.
   The maritime community in Hampton Roads was virtually unified in its opposition to the state considering a proposal to privatize the Port of Virginia, which Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration seemed predisposed to favor after criticizing the port’s performance in recent years. The offer was ultimately rejected by the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners and McDonnell accepted their decision.

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