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Virginia to Commuters: We Laugh In Your General Direction

With much hoopla, the ridiculously stacked conference committee that was supposed to come up with a compromise solution to Virginia's transportation woes has completed its task. Tomorrow, the legislature will vote on a plan that would send some additional money to build roads and support transit, but the plan that a dozen lawmakers--including 10 Republicans, and only two representatives of northern Virginia--approved is stumbling out of the starting gate. And with barely more than 24 hours left in this year's legislative session, it seems hardly likely that there is time or inclination to change this deal to make it anything like a real compromise.

Already yesterday, Gov. Tim Kaine was paving the way toward rejection of the deal, which would spend about $172 million a year of general fund money--the cash that is generally reserved to support the state's schools, health facilities and public safety--on transportation, a no-no to Senate Democrats and the governor.

The Republicans say they're the ones who gave the most here, because they've accepted the idea of raising fees--the plan would increase motor vehicle registration fees and collect new monies from reckless and abusive drivers. The big ticket item in the compromise package is a $2.5 billion bond issue, about 16 percent of which would be dedicated to transit, four percent to rail and the rest to highways.

The GOP plan would deign to let northern Virginia raise an extra $400 million a year for transportation by taxing itself--something that Prince William County's top politician, Corey Stewart (a Republican), for one, says will not and should not pass muster in his neck of the woods. Similarly, Fairfax County's board chairman, Gerry Connally (a Democrat), rejects the structure proposed in this plan, and Kaine immediately responded to it by saying it has "huge problems." The plan is similarly scoffed at in Hampton Roads, the other section of the state with traffic problems. The plan is "as hollow as an empty store," the Virginian Pilot editorialized this week. The real answer remains not a hodgepodge of fees and local option taxes, but a regionwide or better yet, statewide increase in the gas tax or the sales tax to properly fund transportation that may be focused in two urban regions, but nonetheless benefits all Virginians.

Obviously a total rewrite of the plan is not going to happen tomorrow. So there are three options: The Senate somehow gets bamboozled into going along with the House, the governor extends the session in search of a better deal, or nothing happens. My bet is on the last choice, which will allow each party to blame the other and let the voters sort it all out come November.

By Marc Fisher |  February 23, 2007; 4:25 PM ET
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Posted by: Mister Methane | February 23, 2007 5:43 PM

We are paying the price for Mark Warner's $1 billion increase, done on the basis of a busted treasury. Two days after it passed, we found out that the state really was $300 million in the red. That has now swollen to nearly $1 billion. The legislature and governor have no credibility on fiscal issues.

So, what is the state doing with the $1 billion? Not building roads, that's for sure.

And, who knows what Fairfax County has been doing with its fat coffers? My property taxes have gone from $2,400 to $5,000 in less than ten years.

Those who keep calling for tax increase should first answer these questions, before advocating for even more sources money.

Posted by: Annandale | February 23, 2007 6:40 PM

The un-informed person from Annandale who wrote about the accumulation of a budget surplus by Virginia fails to realize that 1) the budget surplus of the Internet boom was the only thing that kept Virginia out of bankruptcy in 2001, because unlike the Federal government, state governments actually put their surpluses in the bank, and 2) it's going to take at least $5 billion, if not more, just to dig Northern Virginia out of the hole that 15 years of failing to spend enough on highways and mass transit has left. Up until now, VDOT's motto has been, "Building yesterday's roads tomorrow." Projects which are badly needed include: 1) at least one new subway line, not just an extension to existing lines, 2) widening Route 29 through Manassas battlefield and widening I-66 between Fairfax City and the Potomac River, and 3) doing something about the traffic mess around Tysons Corner. Those three projects alone could take the entire $5 billion I would suggest, and that's not including subsidies for Metro and VRE, or upkeep of existing roads- such as resurfacing the original concrete on I-66 between Fairfax City and the Beltway which was paved in 1967. By contrast, Maryland, which has an adequate tax base, has added 2 new metro lines and built almost all of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge repair. And this reader from Annandale has the gall to scoff at the necessity of a tax increase? Give me a break.

Posted by: Robertson | February 23, 2007 10:15 PM

The misinformed person who loves income transfers knows darn well that the budget surplus in Virginia came AFTER the internet bust. What is galling were the LIES that the former governor of Virginia and the legislature told the people of the state. We were told that we were broke and, the governor knew that we were not. As such, I cannot believe any budget estimate made by our officials or their plead for funds, when the last major tax increase was based on falsehood and deception.

Posted by: Annandale | February 23, 2007 10:58 PM

The poster from Annandale would believe Jim Gilmore over Mark Warner? May I recommend some anti-psychotic drugs to the poster from Annandlae?

Posted by: Mister Methane | February 23, 2007 11:00 PM

Oh, Please:
After all that gnashing of teeth, and hair pulling to get the last $72B VA Budget passed, we end up after one year with a $639M surplus...

If you have a set budget, and a surplus and a crisis... why not take the surplus one-time it into transportation, then see where you are next year...

Oh, no you can't use a surplus... Nooo. That is to be hoarded and doled out...

Proof that this is all politics is the $329M set aside in the bi-annual budget, that never got appropriated to VDOT for their priority projects... uh, it's still sitting there, a year later?

The use of the GF for transportation is not a Senate issue, it's a VEA issue, maybe?

Posted by: Spank That Donkey | February 25, 2007 5:18 PM

When you find that X has become a crisis and you need to spend money to solve it, you spend less on Y and Z. The politicians in Richmond refuse to accept this reality, and spin it to make it look like it's somehow "irresponsible" to prioritize spending based on current needs. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Fiscal Prudence is Irresponsibility.

Posted by: steveb | February 27, 2007 1:01 PM

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