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The Real Aim of Virginia's Transpo Deal

Should Gov. Tim Kaine take the Republican deal on transportation, or should he veto the bill and let voters decide this fall what they want to do about traffic and the commuting nightmare they face each day?

My colleague Steve Pearlstein argues that Kaine should swallow some of his pride and give up the Democratic strategy of charging into this fall's elections with his party presenting itself as the only true guardian of Virginians' time. Pearlstein writes that northern Virginia will be better off making its own way, taxing itself for the improvements it needs in roads and transit, rather than waiting for the big payday from Richmond that will never come. The bill now before Kaine would give localities the power to fix their own roads, levy taxes for that purpose, and free taxpayers in the rest of the state from the burden of easing congestion in northern Virginia, which they generally resent and loathe.

Sounds reasonable enough, except for a couple of things: Transportation is generally a state responsibility all across the country, for a good reason. States can much more easily afford the huge costs of building roads and transit lines, and states, as larger entities, are better able to coordinate regional planning for roads. Spreading the cost of big projects over a much larger population not only makes good economic sense, it's also much more fair.

But there's another thing going on in this whole political battle, and it's being revealed right now as legislators head home and try to sell this package to their constituents. Let's visit Martinsville, Va., way down in the south-central part of the state, near North Carolina. There, Delegate Morgan Griffith let down his hair while talking to the local chamber of commerce: The Republican legislator told the local crowd that the whole purpose of this transportation package is to make sure that rural roads get built and rural interests are protected before those urban folks up in northern Virginia take over the legislature and the state, which is a demographic inevitability.

Read it for yourself and see: What the Republicans in Richmond are publicly billing as a helping hand for northern Virginia is really a last-ditch attempt to maintain the power and money-allocating sway of rural areas that they know they'll eventually lose to the D.C. and Hampton Roads regions.

Kaine needs to veto this transportation deal so that a more equitable arrangement can be made in the next session, so that Virginia can fulfill its responsibility to give NoVa its fair share of state resources, so that state politicians cannot get away with laying the financial burden on a handful of localities, and so that the generally more parochial interests of local elected officials do not end up making transportation decisions that might make sense for, say, Loudoun or Fairfax counties, but not for the Washington region as a whole.

Tear up that bill, Gov. Kaine.

By Marc Fisher |  March 5, 2007; 7:28 AM ET
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The only problem is that NoVA will suck up all the money, leading to a degradtion in the rest of the state. We need to provide the infrastructure to all the state not just NoVA

Posted by: Stick | March 5, 2007 7:50 AM

Mark, you say "Transportation is generally a state responsibility all across the country". True, but in many states there are county road departments, funded by the counties, maintaining the local roads. It's my understanding that Virginia is unusual in not having many local road departments. IIRC, Arlington is one of the few counties in Va with a local road department. In the rest of the state all the roads are state roads.

I lived in Utah for 10 years, and many towns and counties had local sales taxes to pay for things like road building, improvement, and maintenance. In Utah! Hardly a bastion of liberalism, yet they allowed local control to an extent that would shock the Republicans here in VA.

Posted by: wiredog | March 5, 2007 8:56 AM

Mark, you say "Transportation is generally a state responsibility all across the country". True, but in many states there are county road departments, funded by the counties, maintaining the local roads. It's my understanding that Virginia is unusual in not having many local road departments. IIRC, Arlington is one of the few counties in Va with a local road department. In the rest of the state all the roads are state roads.

I lived in Utah for 10 years, and many towns and counties had local sales taxes to pay for things like road building, improvement, and maintenance. In Utah! Hardly a bastion of liberalism, yet they allowed local control to an extent that would shock the Republicans here in VA.

Posted by: wiredog | March 5, 2007 8:59 AM

We may have differences between Nova and Rova but the last thing we need is advice from an elitist urban snob in DC whose only real interest is in electing democrats (examine his writings during the fall campaign).

Compromises, by definition, mean that neither side gets all it wants and the roads deal is no exception. Nevertheless, it is a major improvement over the status quo and Kain's only goal in vetoing it would be to play partisan politics.

Posted by: Woodbridge | March 5, 2007 9:08 AM

This is a total loss for NoVA if passed. The rural areas _aren't_ paying our transportation. NoVA gets _pennies_ back on the dollar. Rural VA owes many of its own roads, schools, etc to the taxpayers of NoVA. Under this new plan, we potentially pay even more taxes and _still_ send that money down to Richmond and get pennies back on the dollar. This is nothing more than a fleecing of hard-earned NoVA resident dollars after we have so many dollars diverted away for other projects around the state. It is an outrage.

Posted by: pgens | March 5, 2007 9:36 AM

Woodbridge - Yes, he might be an elitist urban snob, but have you been on some of the roads all over the State of Virginia recently??? I have!!! I had the opportunity to drive on I-64, I-81 and various other routes from the West Virginia line to my home in Annandale. What I found is appalling. The ENTIRE interstate highway system in Virginia is one huge bottleneck. I must say that I-64 from West Virginia to Lexington, VA was outstanding. But, from Lexington to my home was one big traffic jam. On I-81 the traffic was as bad as it gets in DC during rush hour. It moved at about 50 MPH, which I know is better that DC speeds, but all it would have taken is one minor crash and the whole highway would have come to a stop and the backups would have extended for miles. I got off of I-81 at Harrisonburg and traveled US 33 which wasn't to bad. But, then I got on US 29 and things started getting bad and got worse as we headed north until I got to the DC area and we all know how that is. My point is that this is a statewide issue and our Republican friends in the rural areas of VA are more concerned about the little roads that are not as heavily used and more concerned about controlling the purse strings so that all of the transportation money goes where it is least needed and not to fix the choke points and take care of the places that are in the most need of the transportation relief. I assume Woodbridge that you live in Prince William County. So, you are effected by the awful traffic on I-95. We need to get this whole issue back on track and get rail transit beefed up and highways that were built in the 1960's and 1970's up to today needs. There is way too much fix my area and the rest of the state be damned attitude about transportation in Virginia. The problem is statewide and before we know it the entire state will become one big parking lot.

Posted by: Bill Stewart | March 5, 2007 9:39 AM

I live in Prince William County, and while I hate to say it, there are many people in this county who agree with Woodbridge's comment (which explains why the likes of Frederick and Lingamfelter hold office). You'd never see such a backward attitude in Loudoun or Fairfax county. I guess people who move to Prince William tend to be more conservative (or perhaps the better description would be "tax-paranoid") than those who migrate to other parts of northern Virginia. You'll see the results 20 years from now, when Metro is fully established in eastern Loudoun but won't be close to coming to Potomac Mills (a long-range destination for the Blue line).

Posted by: Vincent | March 5, 2007 9:59 AM

Bill Stewart --

Yes, I am very well aware that congestion is a statewide problem in Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania and New York etc. And yes, almost every state has the same urban/rural argument over how to allocate transportation funding. During travels in China and the UK in the last 6 months, I noticed the traffic problems in both countries were as bad or worse than here. Again, they too have debates between urban and rural areas over transportation funding.

The real problem is that population worldwide has more than doubled in my lifetime and is expected to increase by 50 percent over the next 40 years. Population growth alone would be enough to cause congestion; but it has been accompanied by migration from rural and urban areas to suburbs. The end result is most areas desparately need to expand transportation capacity in suburban counties and rural residents are afraid they will be neglected in the process.

The "sophisticated" residents in Nova, West end London and Shanghai can look down their noses at their country cousins while they choke on their own exhaust fumes or they can cut some deals (admitadly not perfect) to build roads. Frankly, if throwing some state money into county roads in south central Va. is what it takes to get an extra lane added to HOV on 395, that is a deal I can live with.

Posted by: Woodbridge | March 5, 2007 10:01 AM

I couldn't agree more.

Posted by: Mark Smith | March 5, 2007 10:10 AM

But I think Fisher's point is, in a few years the residents of the urban crescent won't have to settle for a less-than-fair deal from the rural-dominated state legislature. Politics is rough and tumble isn't it, and maybe the governor might look and see that his allies are GOP or Dem, but urban vs rural. Wouldn't that be a kick. A new political alignment based on, wait for it..... reality.

Posted by: Bob | March 5, 2007 10:16 AM

To Woodbridge - You say Kaine is doing nothing but playing partisan politics. It seems to me that is exactly what the Republican controlled legislature is doing by handing Kaine this piece of crap legislation.

Posted by: NAC | March 5, 2007 10:17 AM

Actually the extra taxes rasied will be targeted at NoVA; not siphoned off for RoVA.

Posted by: Stick | March 5, 2007 10:40 AM

Mark, you got a big fact wrong here. Most states do not maintain local roads. In fact, there is only one other state besides Virginia that still maintains all local roads.

Virginia's Byrd Act was enacted during the depression to get local governments out of the road building business because it was killing them financially. As most states devolved local road-building and maintenance to local governments, Dillon-rule Virginia has refused to give it up.

The transportation plan only devolves road-building to local governments on secondary and neighborhood roads, and it is entirely optional, not mandatory. There is language in the bill that would require VDOT to significantly revise the criteria they use before roads can be accepted into the state system, but that language comes from the Governor's own bill. He can't have it both ways.

The media needs to get its collective head srewed on straight. Read the bill before taking what someone else says as gospel. Apparently the Governor has no idea what's in there and hasn't bothered to look it up, and the media have not taken him to task for it.

Posted by: Politico | March 5, 2007 11:00 AM

As much as Northern Virginians like to think that the power shift in the VA legislature is right around the corner, it is more likely that it will happen in decades, not years. The Washington region is not doubling in population every 10 years. Furthermore, not everyone who moves to the region is on the same page (as witnessed by 'Woodbridge'). Therefore, it is more important that we look out for ourselves now, because we cannot afford to wait decades to hope a 'favorable' legislature will use the magic wand and instantly remove everyone from the gridlock in which we already sit.
No, Pearlstein makes a much better argument. I highly recommend reading the article if you haven't already. Why should we raise state taxes and continue to complain that we don't receive our fair share? We need to tax ourselves and keep the money while lowering State taxes. It sure beats waiting for the legislature to be kind to us. Why would they want to give more money to the 'rich' people up North?
The delegates from rural areas are doing what they should by getting spending money on frivolous projects in their areas. Is it fair? Who's to say. The game is politics.
I used to think that a Kaine veto would be a good thing. Unfortunately, it is beginning to look as if nothing better can be passed. One of the saddest points is this: Howell hails from Stafford - a 'gridlocked', Northern Virginia county.

Posted by: Springfield | March 5, 2007 11:00 AM

How about we derive all funding locally? Instead of allowing counties to raise additional funds for road improvements, how about we stop taxing for roads at the state level altogether? Let's let the localities pay for and maintain all of their roads, maintenance and improvement.

But why stop there? Why not do the same thing with education? Let's stop taxing for education at the state level, and instead let the localities collect all of the costs of education locally.

Which localities do you think would suffer the most if we did that? Sure as hell wouldn't be Fairfax or Arlington or Loudoun or Alexandria or Prince William. Suddenly your downstate Republicans would be talking about the responsibilities of the state.

This is about nothing but money and selfishness.

Posted by: dlc | March 5, 2007 11:25 AM

Pearlstein lays out the situation better. And forcing politicians to go against their pledges not to raise taxes is not the way to go. Either submit a plan as a ballot initiative, or let each legislator campaign on his position. Let the people decide.

Posted by: gitarre | March 5, 2007 11:26 AM

NAC --

Yes, the Republicans are responsible for traffic congestion, global warming, ethnic strife, economic dislocations and the fact that Santa Clause never did bring you the poney you asked for.

Now, back on planet earth, politics in Virginia have always split much more along regional than partisan lines. The Nova Rova split was just as bad, if not worse, when the Democrats controlled the legislature (up until 1994). When I first moved here in 1981, the big fight was eduction spending. Richmond was allocating K-12 funding to counties using a fromula that measured a local potential property tax revenues and than supplemented it with state funds. End result was that Fairfax county paid for most of the K-12 education statewide. That was with democrats in control. Now it is transportation funding with Republicans in control.

The fact is this package may not be perfect; but it is not all that bad either. Transportation in general gets more funding and NOVA gets the opportunity to raise local taxes if we want with at least some assurance the funds will stay in our area. What is the alternative? Raise general fund revenues and hope we get our peice of them? Who do you think will pay the increased GF taxes? Do you think it might just be the more wealthy residents of the crescent? Duh.

As for Bob's suggestion that urban crescent residents can get a better deal the next time around; maybe, but a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Also, redistricting doesn't take place for another 3 years, so at best your looking at replacing some urban crescent Rs with urban crescent Ds who will do what? Raise general fund taxes. Which puts us right back where we are now with higher taxes and no assurance they will be used for transportation at all, let alone transportation in Nova.

The current deal is livable. Lets take it and move on.

Posted by: Woodbridge | March 5, 2007 11:26 AM

You're comments are misguided. You have purposefully ignored the premise of the Republican position - that the enormous tax hike under Gov. Warner sent the majority of our NoVA transportation tax dollars to rural Virginia. This bill keeps the funds at the source and where they are most needed.

Posted by: You lost the plot | March 5, 2007 11:27 AM

Another problem is that Northern Virginia has not demonstrated that it can spend money wisely. One of the most embarrasing transportation boondoggles in the entire country is rail in the Dulles Corridor. It costs a fortune, accomplishes nothing, and is being pursued in a manner that can most charitably be described as questionable. Negotiations are conducted in secret, so noone really knows how much it will cost. Responsibility for the project was transferred to the airport authority, which is accountable to nobody and which has a majority of board members from outside of Virginia. There has been an outright refusal to even consider public transit alternatives that have been proven, by real world experience and application, to work better and to cost much less.

Although rail to Dulles was a state project, it has been driven forward largely by Fairfax County. If this is the kind of transportation "solutions" we can expect from more local control, then we are in real trouble.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 5, 2007 11:28 AM

Elitist snob. An appellation many of us wear with pride. While some of you who use the term derisively may well actually be proud of your contrasting lives in the hinterlands, it couldn't be more obvious that many of you are just jealous of the superior educations, employment prospects, and cultural opportunities we elitist snobs create for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Feel free to wallow in your supposed John Mellencamp-Chevy truck lives while you demean the ideals and culture of urban areas and progressive politics. Who do you think sells you your exburb/rural angst and your venomous outrage at urban liberals? Elitist snobs.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 5, 2007 11:38 AM

Interesting that the current funding system goes on road miles, I didn't realize that. The effect would seem to be that not only is there an immediate cost to, say, building a big empty beltway around Richmond, but a long term cost in that Richmond gets more future funding due to its increased road mileage. Self-perpetuating imbalance in transportation funding - a good trick.

Posted by: Rob in FC | March 5, 2007 11:50 AM

woodbridge -

Please explain to me how the extra 80 million a year or so to NOVA will help? Because that is all the plan gets us - 80 million a year! You cant re-do an intersection for that.

This will do absolutely NOTHING to help us in the long-term.

Posted by: novaresident | March 5, 2007 11:55 AM

Woodbridge better get on his horse and head for RoVa.

All those people flooding into McMansions in traffic-choked Gainesville, for example, have the exact same interests as the people in Loudoun and Fairfax: schools and traffic. They have zero in common with, and zero interest in, people in south-central Va.

The right-wing Lingamfelter-Frederick equivalents are being driven from Loudoun and western Fairfax and the same will soon happen to them in Prince William as well.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | March 5, 2007 11:59 AM

For readers who do not know, the Hillsville Bypass, mentioned in the referenced Martinsville newspaper will cost about $46-48 million dollars at present prices.
There are fewer people in Hillsville than I have in the SMALLEST precinct in my legislative district, House district number 13 representing parts of Prince WIlliam and Loudoun.

For this and other reasons I voted NO. I am the only General Assembly Republican in NO VA who voted NO.

Posted by: Delegate Bob Marshall | March 5, 2007 12:34 PM

Who says that in other states, the states pay for the roads? Prove it.

Here's a quote from Washington State.
Washington State County Engineers Article - Number 24 of a Series in 2004

"Let's look at county road fund sources. From 1996 thru
2001, County Road Departments received about 11% from the federal government. 28% came
from the state. Federal and state dollars are mostly fuel taxes. 61% came from county taxes."

Posted by: stewart | March 5, 2007 12:42 PM

Republicans suck!

ROVA sucks!

Posted by: Ryan | March 5, 2007 1:14 PM

I asked Delegate Bill Howell about state funding of roads. Here is his reply:

"VA is one of only three states that has the responsibility for secondary, i.e. local, roads. Cities and towns and two counties (Henrico and Arlington) have local responsibility but all the rest are covered by the State. This is particularly problematic as 350 to 500 more lane miles come into the system yearly from new subdivisions."

Bill Howell

Posted by: stewart | March 5, 2007 1:45 PM

I have an idea... You know all of that money that goes to support the major interstates that get the hick red staters in the back woods their snuff. We'll we will make sure that none of it to include education money goes into the general fund.

They want to approch this as segregation - then that will apply to every penny that comes from NOVA>

Posted by: totally | March 5, 2007 4:31 PM

Live in VA and get what you deserve.

Posted by: Chris | March 5, 2007 4:44 PM

This bill, and the issues surrounding it, are just another example of what NoVA should secede from RoVA.

Posted by: Mister Methane | March 5, 2007 5:08 PM

Actually, we have High Schools in No VA with more students than there are people in Hillsville, Virginia which will be the beneficiary of the recently passed Transportation Bill for an unneeded Bypass, unneeded for congestigation mitigation that is.

Posted by: Delegate Bob Marshall | March 5, 2007 5:09 PM


Posted by: ratfacefromleesburg | March 5, 2007 7:50 PM

The main purpose of the Virginia legislature is to tax the "Yankees" in NOVA and distribute the booty downstate. This wonderful opportunity to tax ourselves merely furthers this aim. First we pay the lion's share of taxes in the state which goes to funding programs elsewhere, then we get to tax ourselves a second time for our own needs. Such a Deal!!!!!

Posted by: Big D, Alexandria | March 8, 2007 3:15 PM

Posted by: | March 26, 2007 5:16 PM

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