Every year, a bill sneaks up on us and everybody else, that really takes the General Assembly by surprise. This year, perhaps more than others: There have been bills trying to expand the definition of blight (that we slowed down and got amended) and one still alive that would dismantle welfare reform (HB 1714). But one idea no one would have imagined would surface, espeially after the HB 3202 fiasco, was the idea of regional transportation authorities. There was talk of it in the greater Richmond area, but when suburban kingpin Henrico Country said it wasn't interested in joining, no one gave it a second thought. Nobody but Senator John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian), that is.
(The admin's note: Contrary to what you may think after three successive posts mentioning his name, this is not pick on Senator Watkins Day. Pure coincidence that he has been at least partially involved in the previous two posts.)
Senator Watkins, it seems, still wants the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County to get together without Henrico, with the possibility the latter and other jurisdictions can join the party later. It's all in SB 1534, which passed the Senate yesterday 21-19. The two sides were as odd a mix as you'll ever see, with liberals such as Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) voting against (probably in the vein of, "If Northern Virginia can't get that extra taxing power, no one is.")
This new authority would, according to the senator's own newsletter, include:
". . . the authorization of a regional congestion relief fee, which is, in essence, a grantor's tax that can be authorized by the respective Board of Supervisors or City Council. The primary reason for this is to give the authority, if formed, a mechanism to pay for its initial development and planning."
That is to say, more taxes, especially on an industry (real estate that is in depression and making refinancing and new mortgages more expensive) and more bureaucracy, regulation and half-baked and costly transportation projects. So, keep your eyes open. If this can sneak up on Richmond-area citizens, it can sneak up on every region. As we all know, bad ideas in the General Assembly never go away. They just get repackaged into worse ones.