hampton roads virginia transportation problems

Absolutely Nothing

As the Special Tax Session approached, we posed two poll questions, one of which asked, "What do you think will happen at the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly?" One choice we provided was "Absolutely nothing." As it happened, it won the polling with 36%, while some of the more pessimistic in the crowd thought some tax increase was imminent. As it turned out, the session ended with a wimper and, as some of us guessed — or at least hoped — absolutely nothing got done. Now, it appears His Excellency is jumping on the bandwagon, describing the session to the media with an attempt at hipness: "It was like a Seinfeld episode — a show about nothing." How clever.

But what did he expect? Special sessions are called when there is a consensus and all involved — both parties in both chambers and the executive — have some type of understanding as to what they want to do and agree to do. So he calls for a session, proposes a whopping statewide tax increase during trying economic times, and blames the other side. That's helpful.

If he was serious, there were three issues that — as with most commonsense solutions — are popular and could make great progress toward Virginia's transportation problems.

  1. The House voted 95-0 for HB 6023, an independent, outside audit of VDOT. Governor Kaine's friends in the Senate let it die in committee. How can we spend billions on new projects when we don't have a clue now (or else we wouldn't be in this condition, now would we?). Washington state did an audit of its transportation department and discovered overlap and duplication in planning, projects and bureaucracy (what's new there?); and misplaced priorities. It found simple solutions to correct problems that were thought to cost billions more. The savings? $18 billion — and Washington is a lot smaller than Virginia. (Tertium Quids has more here.)
  2. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) had a proposal to take profits from the Port of Virginia — no tax money involved — and apply that money to transportation. Better still, HB 6055, which originally was loaded with tax increases for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia residents, was smartly amended by Delegate Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News) with input, our sources tell us, from Delegates Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) and Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), to strip out all tax increases and use profits from the Virginia Port Authority and Dulles International and Reagan National Airports. Following the lead of Yankees may be painful to some down here, but New York and New Jersey do this successfully with their port revenue. After all, according to the governor, his mates in the Senate and the big business special interests, we need transportation to help facilitate the growth of our ports, right? These bills also died in Senate committees.
  3. As ever, a transportation fund lock box (HJ 6001). Let's constitutionally seal up that money so it can't be used for, say, new government run baby sitting programs. The governor, like other famous campaign promises, seems content not to act or, if he acts at all, it's counter to his campaign rhetoric. HJ 6001 was changed by the Senate and eventually died.

So, if nothing was done, who's to blame? Why is it "bipartisan" only to increase taxes but a "waste of time" to adopt other measures proven to work elsewhere? Why do liberals, who know so much, are such great problem solvers and are smarter than the rest of us, only know one solution for every problem? Good, commonsense, practical measures were defeated while liberals scream that their tax increase schemes died — even though they got a full debate in the Republican controlled House in contrast to the committee killing Senate actions. Besides, if nothing was done, it's not like we didn't tell you, governor; and with our wallets still intact, we're better off for this "nothing" as well. In this case, nothing is something, indeed: A win for hard-working, taxpaying families and individuals.

The Same "Just One Question" For House Republicans

As The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly was about to get underway, we posed one question we said we'd love Governor Tim Kaine to answer. Now that House Republicans, or at least some of them, are getting behind HB 6055, which would raise numerous onerous taxes in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia (such as the real-estate killing grantor's tax), we want to pose to them the same question:

Before we go raising taxes for a bloated government to pave over the Commonwealth by taking more money from people already finding it tough to get by, shouldn't we first spend the $500 million in new money still around from last year's transportation bill?

Okay, it's worded slightly differently, but it's the same question, and rightfully posed as the bill's patron, Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93, Newport News) today cited that same pot of money of new funding on "Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett" on WRVA-AM/1140. Despite the House Republican leadership's public statements about fixing the parts ruled unconstitutional from last year's bill, it doesn't seem to have the whole team reading from the same playbook.

New Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, and Delegate, Jeff Frederick (R-52, Woodbridge), told the blog Tertium Quids:

. . . he plans not only to vote against HB 6055, but to make the case, in his role as party chairman, that tax hikes such as this make little policy sense while also harming the GOP brand.

What does it say about the bill's policy and those well-meaning legislators who want to do something "to make the issue go away" when the party's chairman, and a colleague of the patron, is adamantly against it? Who was elected statewide most recently and has heard from the grassroots? Not only that, but statewide and regional polling makes it pretty clear: No new taxes will be tolerated, no matter what they're called, how they're imposed or what it's for. Delegate Frederick is not the only one concerned. Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), who also has traveled the state much recently in his bid for attorney general, told TQ:

"I'm very concerned that the Republican tax bill will pass, further enraging our already-dispirited base over what they will perceive as an abandonment of Republican principles — again."

Partisans may think this split in the ranks is bad. Taxpayers, perhaps otherwise, since it gives us hope of defeating a massive tax hike (however "regional" in nature) — never good, and particularly disastrous in these uncertain economic times. So, we ask again, to House Republicans — and, for that matter, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Democrats, Governor Kaine and anyone else who will have a say in the matter:

Shouldn't we first spend what we already have?