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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.

By Marc Fisher |  July 14, 2008; 8:40 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments. hit the most important point in the last paragraph...the VAGOP knows that they can't win votes in NoVA, have enough members to maintain their position and really don't care since the people in RoVA view us simply as entitled and arrogant while we sit around waiting for our butlers to deliver our goat cheese and champagne. It will be quite scary, however, if we elect a Republican governor in 2009 as we are likely to see a repeat of Allen and Gilmore which is simply frightening.

Meanwhile, they have no problem seeing the need for roads like the I-295 bypass in Richmond with six (sometimes eight!) lanes which carry around 30K vehicles per day. Since secession is not really an option I figure that if we wait another 10-15 years the trickle down effect will take place as the NoVA economy grinds to a halt and tax revenues fall precipitously. By then, however, people will likely be talking about Virginia much as we view states like Alabama and Mississippi today.

Posted by: SapphicHokieMom | July 14, 2008 9:34 AM

Your arrogance and openly partisan views are stunning in their ignorance. The Governor went into this session and acknowledged that he had not done any negotiation with the other parties. In otherwords he knew in advance that the collossal waste of time and taxpayer money was doomed to failure. However, Kaine never wants to pass up the opportunity to blame Republicans for his lack of leadership, but heck, on some of his proposals, not even his own party voted with him. Taxpayers are feeling the pain of high gas and food prices, but its only a few more dollars of taxes. Let them eat cake.

Posted by: Ace | July 14, 2008 10:14 AM

Things will change when the 2010 census forces the VA House and Senate to reapportion delegates and Senators based on the population. NOVA and Tidewater should have representation.

Kaine shares some of the blame but a majority of it goes to House and the Republican leadership there. As an independent a NOVA 1-2cent increase in the gas tax would be acceptable with all proceeds going to NOVA.

Shame we cant secede and become are owns tate but I never thought I would say this there is always wild and wonderful WVA!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2008 10:33 AM

At some point the rotten boroughs represented by these scumbags will finally be outvoted and it will be so sweet to hear the NoVa/Hampton Roads reps say to them, "You'll get nothing and like it!"

Posted by: Spectator2 | July 14, 2008 10:54 AM

As Marc hinted at, the purposeful inaction of the GOP in the VA House has effects well beyond the borders of Virginia. Because they fail - again, purposefully - to address transportation, Metro goes without the promised $1.5 billion in federal funds for maintenance and improvements. The people of the District and Maryland have sucked it up to dedicate $50 million a year to Metro and yet now, because of Virginia's do-nothing Republicants, we all get to suffer through a deteriorating mass transit system.

Posted by: Corbett | July 14, 2008 10:59 AM

Let's see how well RoVA manages when big publicly traded companies start moving out of NoVA on an even more accelerated basis than they currently are. The taxes aren't THAT great in Virginia to keep us here, especially with employees unhappy with both the quality of life, epic gridlock, and cost of living in NoVA. Good luck spending the ever diminishing NoVA dollars on your pork projects, Richmond/RoVA. Your days are numbered.

Posted by: BOHICA! | July 14, 2008 11:22 AM

Actually this was a very productive specisl session ins which the House beat back an arrogant power grab by a partison governor determined to politicize the transportation issue in order to build momentum for his vice presidential bid. Kudos to the members of the State House who stood their ground.

BTW -- I voted in favor of the local sales tax increase when it was on the referndum and would willingly support reasonabel revenue increases for targeted transportation projects. Kaine and WaPo just want to throw money at the issue with no real effort to focus the spending on anything productive.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | July 14, 2008 11:27 AM

Part of the problem is that roads in many parts of Virginia are excellent. They've been overbuilt by the same politicians who now have denied relief to Northern Virginia. Sadly, Northern Virgina had a generation of political leaders who foolishly believed they could simply stop growth by not building roads. Now we learn they were wrong and are paying for their ignorance with massive gridlock. Northern Virginia remains the golden goose of Virginia. The Republicans are hurting the entire state by refusing to help this area.

Posted by: Fairfax Bill | July 14, 2008 11:38 AM

Taxpayers in NoVa get 25 cents on every dollar that they send to Richmond in state taxes. Outrageous theft. We do not need more taxes, just stop stealing our money and we can build world class roads.

Posted by: Leesburg | July 14, 2008 12:08 PM

There's enough blame to go around. Gov. Kaine should have had his ducks in a row before calling the session, and if the Republicans really wanted to do something, they would have at least met him half way so that he wouldn't have HAD to call this special session.

Posted by: NN Native | July 14, 2008 12:12 PM

When are the taxpayers of VA going to wake up. Gov Mark Warner raised taxes to pay for these items before, "to make our state great again". The Dems all want to keep increasing the amount and taking the taxpayers money to fix all the same things over and over, but don't use that money to really fix anything but thier pet projects and the Reps keep saying "no" saying they are trying to help the taxpayer keep more of his money yet our taxes still keep going up because if you look at the VA budget it is increasing ebery year. Sounds like both sides are just trying to protect there own financial interest. It's all about the money "my money" one group takes it through taxes and the other takes it through businesses.

Posted by: I do not believe | July 14, 2008 12:37 PM

How about we look at it the other way; the Dems didn't want to sign onto GOP proposals. But that doesn't fit into the true purpose of the special session which was for kaine and the rest of the Dems to try and make the GOP look bad for their own partisan purposes.

Posted by: Stick | July 14, 2008 12:37 PM

"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."

When the NOVA delegates and residents treat the rest of the state with such contempt, why should they care about our transportation problems?

Here's a link to the state budget. Maybe the Gov should come up with a plan to find the the needed money for transportation projects and Metro out of the $80.4 billion available for 2008-2010. Or ar the funded programs and project so vital they can't spare a dime? Can't do that -- much easier to put the screws to the taxpayers and blame RoVA when they balk at the idea.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | July 14, 2008 12:49 PM

"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."
Because this author has blatantly failed to understand WHY Virginian independents and traditional republicans continue to block the No-Bid Dulles Extension project, beyond the fact that it will be financially unfeasible without major taxation, he needs to stop writing articles and begin going out and TALKING to those same NoVa residents that he seems to like to just point his finger at. When he is done educating himself on the issues in VA, he should drive to MD and then DC and talk to them as well...

What he will see is that both DC and MD funding is relying on VA's MAJORITY funding. All three cesspools cannot afford it at this time... nor can we the people afford more No-Bid contracts that end up costing 3000% more than initial estimates.

As long as we breathe, until a FAIR and OPEN bidding process takes place in every single state it touches, every chance to stiff the liberal democratic party will be taken. And Im sure they will continue to point the finger at the Reps...

But the bottom line is independents in NoVa (who seem to think for themselves) is aligning with the Reps on this one.... Sorry Mr. Fisher

Posted by: SlantedArticle | July 14, 2008 1:03 PM

Good article, but check the slant at the door since this is not a problem generated by just Republicans. I am not an anti-tax fanatic, however, I can sympathize with the downstate legislators who do not wish to bail NoVA out of its excesses and mistakes, peddled influence and cronyism. They have to be accountable to those who elect them. And their constituents are not sympathetic to 5000 sq.ft. McMansion and giant SUV owners with long commutes

Fairfax County has been one of the leaders in approving building to cover every square inch of open land. This has happened under Republicans (remember Jack Herrity being swept out on traffic issues in the 1980s), and has been continued by Democrats. But Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the FFX County Board has been far worse and also advocates higher density development, as does the city of Falls Church. Under "King" Gerry, house values go up, taxes go up. Values fall, taxes go up. Gerry is the king of taxers, and has deep wide open pockets for builder and business political contributions. However, developer "improvements" to local infrastructure are too local and mere concessions to the cost of doing business. Planners, developers and their crony NoVA politicians say high density encourages mass transit and neo-urban living. It ignores the reality that it will not take long for folks to discover that you cannot get everywhere by Metrorail and the Metrobus sits in traffic also and may not run in off hours, so they will eventually buy cars. Now "King" Gerry begs for a bailout by the rest of state, or asks for unfettered taxing authorities, even as he is trying to bail out of FFX for the U.S. Congress so his ideas can be inflicted nationwide.

Enter Tim Kaine. He reminds me of a Democratic Bush. He will not negotiate, prefers to rely on surprise proposals he knows will not fly or even serve as a start to a solution, and if he does negotiate it is in bad faith, he bullies, he blames others for pure political purposes solely in hopes of a blue Virginia, and not to solve the problem. Above all his first reaction to everything is to tax to the max, and he does not even look to save money except in areas that will hurt the taxpayer or public in order to push his taxation agenda. Glad he is a one termer.

I supported a statewide gas tax ($.04) and a small regional add-on gas tax ($.01), with the condition it will be in a lockbox account and can only be used for roads in the state and except for the regional add-on, cannot be used for regional mass transit. All people using fuel would pay, and you can determine your own bite by what you drive. I remain opposed any new tax on house sales as this means only land and homeowners would pay when houses are sold.

I do not trust any Regional authority to tax for transportation unless the revenue can only be used for that purpose - even if the rest of the counties and state are in fiscal woe. Otherwise, these liars at the state and local levels will raid it and use it for other purposes.

In conclusion, one poster did have it right, the 2010 census is a carefully hidden agenda. Packing in hi-density people and encouraging illegal immigrants is all part of that plan.

Posted by: B22042 | July 14, 2008 1:18 PM

To all who blame Kaine ...
Where is the GOP Plan? Oh wait, there isn't one. Previously they want to borrow to hilt to avoid looking like they were raising taxes.

I disagree with assessment of the "success" of the GOP strategy. It is going to start hurting them badly in the Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area where there is a need for road improvements is a great as in NoVA. And as I-81 projects get delayed how well will that play in Western VA?

It is time for both sides to wake up and come up with a plan before the state is completely screwed.

Posted by: same old | July 14, 2008 3:17 PM

Thank you, Marc Fisher, for a clear-eyed look at our current disaster.

A state, or commonwealth, in which the rural region simply blindly sticks it to the urban region for as long as it can, knowing the inevitable demographics will then rob it of all power in a decade or two, and in which the urban/suburban regions are increasingly watching in impotent anger and hate because of the way they're treated (and eager to hand down retribution as a result when they can), sounds worthy of the Middle East, not the United States of America.

This is an absolutely spiteful, pathetic way for rural Republican leaders to behave and I do not understand why they, as people interested originally in public service, would choose this path and virtually expel fine, intelligent leaders of their party such as Tom Davis. They would rather destroy the state that have any outcome that they disagree with.

I would understand a legislature waiting out a contentious issue until THIS fall's election. That's pretty much where the Congress is right now. But waiting for a year and a half until NEXT fall? Talk about fiddling while Rome's burning. I have to agree with other comments that corporations and high-paid workers are going to gradually vote with their feet and move where where they can pay taxes to some other state that doesn't spit in their face while it takes their money.

Posted by: Fairfax Voter | July 14, 2008 4:50 PM

No more trains or HOV experiments. Add a nickel to a gallon of gas, assess $500 for hybrids and electrics (no free rides!) and ALL gas taxes go to roads and highway construction, especially in No. Virginia.

Use Gov. Rick Perry's model and make the Dulles Toll Road, I-66, I-495, and US 50 ten lanes on either side!

Posted by: Steve M. | July 14, 2008 8:13 PM

Why the heck can't we in Northern Virginia secede? Do we need another civil war for it to happen?

I think the state of North Virginia sounds wonderful, westward to Loudoun, southward to Prince William.

Posted by: Vincent | July 14, 2008 8:15 PM

This is Tim Kaine's mess, and let him sit on it.

A reasonable gas tax increase (six to ten cents) would solve all the funding problems and have money for Metro.

Kaine refuses that approach, wants to tax homeowners, add to the sales tax, refuses a gas tax, and still wants metro-to-reston.

Kaine = no leadership.

Posted by: charlie | July 14, 2008 8:43 PM

How can anyone say the Republicans ever had a transportation plan? The first bill they proposed was a "a last-minute compromise orchestrated in part by Springfield Delegate Dave Albo (R-42nd), Centreville Delegate Tim Hugo (R-40th) and Herndon Delegate Tom Rust (R-86th). By the way, rust and albo, they were the ones that came up with the driver abuser fees, that had good drivers paying up to $1000 for a speeding ticket. Yes, real geniuses. Oh btw, the democrats got rid of it, thank god.

The republican's thrown together at the last minute transportation plan was similar to an unconstitutional bill!:
"The bill is patterned after a similar plan that was adopted by the General Assembly last year but later vetoed by the Virginia Supreme Court. The court ruled the bill unconstitutional because it did not directly levy taxes but instead gave taxing power to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, an unelected body."

Not to mention they wanted to audit VDOT again, which would be the 7th time since 2000. Auditing VDOT is not a real solution. Plus, we've already done it six times.

"The plan does not include any statewide taxes or solutions for the state's transportation budget shortfall. Instead, it raises taxes and fees in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to pay for road projects in those areas only.

"...Albo said the current version of the bill includes an initial $100 fee for Northern Virginia residents applying for a driver's license."

We currently pay around $4-8, depending on the type of license. So, Albo won't raise taxes, right, well he will in NoVa and hampton roads.. but of course that would be besides the point, and oh wait, he wants to raise the drivers license fee (again with these fees, they aren't called "taxes," but they still are basically taxes.) Virginia republicans anti-tax? I don't think so.

"Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer did not speculate on whether Gov. Tim Kaine (D) would sign the measure but said the bill's [albo, rust, and hugo's bill] lack of a statewide solution is a major problem."

So the Democrats wanted a statewide plan to help RoVa and NoVA - how does that make all the dems in NoVa elitist?

"Another sticking point in the bill is a provision that would give Hampton Roads an extra share of transportation money - up to $250 million, from the state's General Fund. That's money that's currently being used for schools, Medicaid and other projects around the state and the Senate Finance Committee already soundly rejected that idea in a different bill earlier in the week."

The senate finance committee is made up 9 democrats and 7 republicans, it's not like it's a bunch of heavy government spending liberals. This bipartisan group turned the idea down, because it is so ludicrous!
So, the republicans plan was shut down, then the republicans took Saslaw's perfectly reasonable plan (read the actual text of the bill!), and took out all the parts about raising taxes. Result = nothing.

So, the dems had a plan, the repubs had a joke of a plan.

Wake up people.

Posted by: 1twenty09 | July 15, 2008 11:35 AM

Northern Virginians allowed developers carte blanche to make it into an ugly concrete jungle so they should just stew in their creation. The rural, beautiful areas of Virginia don't want Northern Virginia's sprawl or to pay for the mistakes of Northern Virginians, from jack Herrity to Til Hazel to the Lerners to Gerald Connelly.

Posted by: D Leaberry | July 17, 2008 12:05 PM

As usual Marc your giving the good governor a pass on this issue, coupled with a very short memory. While the Post and Pilot were big supporters of a gas tax 4 years ago both proposals were soundly defeated in NoV and Tidewater.
Rather than making transportation a bi- partisan issue in 2006, Kaine used it as a weapon in the elections to gain control of Senate. He was the one who changed the legislation to enforce stiff fines on ONLY Va drivers and exclude non residents.
Now he wants a bill but hasn't proposed legislation that has any chance of passing and then says the house failed to act.
Its time for the governor to start showing some leadership rather than the partisan that he has become as governor

Posted by: maxketter | July 17, 2008 8:26 PM

Sure, this is a wonderful startegy, if traffic is just a NOVA problem, but it is NOT. When it takes 2.5 hours to get from one end of Richmond to another during the rush hour, and 6 hours to get from NOVA to VA beach. This is a problem. The lack of good transpotation infrstructure will be a mjor drag on being able to attract jobs to VA

Posted by: Robert | July 18, 2008 2:46 PM

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