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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