Virginia's Seinfeld Legislature: Now, Nothing
Gov. Tim Kaine had his soundbite ready when the Virginia legislature, for the ninth straight time in less than a decade, failed to do anything of substance about the state's transportation woes: "I don't think I've ever seen a group work so hard to do nothing. It was doing nothing taken to an art," Kaine said, predictably blasting the House Republicans who killed his and other Democratic proposals to raise money for roads and transit. "They had since February to come up with something and they came up with nothing. It was like a 'Seinfeld' episode, the show about nothing."
If this show is getting tiresome in its many, many reruns, the impact of inaction is hardly static. Road projects keep getting delayed or trimmed. A massive, $1.5 billion federal outlay for Metro is frozen because Virginia refuses to do its part to join Maryland and the District in setting up the local piece of a funding stream for the transit system.
All this while gas-price-stunned Virginians are casting about for some relief. In northern Virginia, for those commuters who live anywhere near mass transit routes, that relief is spelled M-e-t-r-o. But the transit system was already under palpable strain from its own popularity before $4 gas became a reality. The needs now are greater than ever before, and they will only get worse--and soon. Can you imagine how desperate people will be to find other means of getting around when gas hits $6 a gallon?
But let's not be unfair: The lawmakers in Richmond did not merely sit around spending $22,000 a day of taxpayers' money during their failed special session over the past few weeks. Oh, no, they were busy beavers: They chatted about more than 100 bills. And don't believe this nonsense about how the two parties are impossibly deadlocked and cannot agree to anything: Heck, they passed 104 resolutions honoring great Virginians and 11 actual bills. Let's take a look at them, shall we?
Your elected officials agreed that this was the time to congratulate the great Floyd County High School golf team. Dems and Repos came together to honor "the triumphant performance of the 2007 Buffaloes," noting that the team's success "is a tribute to the talent, dedication, and perseverance of the players; the leadership of Head Coach Skip Bishop and his staff; and the support of the parents, student body, and faculty and leadership of Floyd County High School."
And lawmakers completed the hard work of honoring Cheryl Stevens of Woodbridge, who in 2000 "went to work for the Chief of Naval Operations, and retired as an invaluable project manager for the Navy's Defense Travel System," as the resolution puts it.
More serious work occurred as well: Legislators renamed a bridge over I-95 in Caroline County as Trooper Robert Tinsley Lohr Memorial Bridge. And they improved the lives of some Virginians: From henceforth, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom may be issued special license plates. Makes you want to run out and vote these pols into even longer terms in office.
The state's lawmakers are back home for the summer and fall. When they reconvene in January, while the rest of us sit in worsening traffic and more frustrating Metro delays, the governor says he will move on from transportation and focus his final legislative push on energy and the environment.
But energy and transportation are essentially the same issue. Our heating and gas bills have a direct impact on our freedom to move around. The governor and legislators, looking at the state's 2009 elections, will be hunting for nice, cheap, easy ways to show that they are green and caring people. But resolutions supporting recycling and incentives to build more energy-efficient buildings are mere niceties. By the time we're shelling out $6 for gas, the public's eagerness to see real movement toward energy independence and real alternatives to getting in the car will be far more powerful than it is today.
Will that translate into a willingness by Virginia Republicans to pay for road and improvements? No, because the GOP has decided that they don't need and can't get enough votes in northern Virginia to compete with the surging Democrats in the state's high-growth areas. The Republicans have decided that their future lies in making themselves the anti-tax, anti-urban, anti-immigrant party, leaving northern Virginia and its traffic woes to stew in their own juices. That's not necessarily an idiotic strategy on the GOP's part--Virginia, despite Democratic advances in recent years, remains an almost evenly divided state politically and culturally. But what it does mean is more stalemate, more paralysis.
If you like traffic, you're gonna love the next few years.
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