transportation trust fund

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.

Special Tax Session Fast Approaching

Just four years ago, Virginians were asked to pay for a massive tax increase, the brainchild of former Governor and current Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner and former Virginia Senator and lifelong RINO John Chichester. (Visit tomorrow for the untold background on this, the largest tax increase in Virginia history.) As a result, billions more dollars from working families in Virginia have poured into the coffers in Richmond. In the three state budgets since, state government has spent nearly $100 billion of your money. The result? They're back for more. Regardless of Governor Tim Kaine's (contact him here) rhetoric about working families in Virginia expecting a "free lunch" for not wanting to send more of their hard earned money to Richmond, the fact remains that there is plenty of revenue in Richmond to pay for core government services. 

But for the politicians, there just isn't enough money to pay for those services and everything else they want. There never will be enough for their voracious spending appetites, all while Virginia taxpayers get nothing close to a free lunch — and it is incredibly arrogant for the governor to suggest that we are.

This Monday, June 23, the General Assembly will meet at the capitol for what we've dubbed the "Special Tax Session" because, despite the rhetoric about a "transportation crisis," there are no guarantees that revenue from any new taxes will go solely to transportation. Any new tax money will go into the general fund and be spent any way Virginia's political elite wants it to be spent. It's telling that one of the biggest supporters of the tax increase is the Virginia Education Association. Exactly what interest should the teachers union have in a tax increase for "transportation"? Their excitement clearly indicates they've been given a free run through the pork trough if the tax increase passes.

The lack of a guarantee that transportation will become a priority is just one of the many reasons that the General Assembly should reject the call for tax hikes. See our interview with Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Fredericksburg) and his response about the raid on the Transportation Trust Fund. The fact that transportation spending makes up just 13 percent of the budget, while education makes up 40 percent and social services 30 percent, indicates that transportation never really has been the priority it should. To complain about a "crisis" now is disingenuous. If there is a crisis, it's a crisis in leadership, not of citizenship. What leader, beside Jimmy Carter, criticizes his constituents?

But most importantly, to ask Virginia's working families to pay even more in taxes when they are facing extraordinary and ever-rising gas and food prices, a collapsed housing market, job insecurity and a sluggish economy, is the unrestrained arrogance of elitism, of someone out of touch with, perhaps, "bitter" people. Your elected officials — especially your delegate and senator — must not feel this lack of restraint the governor apparently feels. Send a clear message to your representatives that you oppose higher taxes and fees.

Remember: The politicians will raise your taxes if they think you don't care, because they can sell it to you as something necessary, as in transportation, then spend it any way they choose. So you must let them know you are paying attention. Click here and send an e-mail to your delegate and senator and urge them to oppose higher taxes. Then forward this link to your friends and family so they can make their voices heard as well.

Truth In Reporting: The Special Tax Session

Governor Tim Kaine surprised absolutely no one when he rolled out his transportation — er, make that tax — plan Monday. It includes nearly $1 billion tax and fee increases under the guise of fixing transportation for what he and the media mistakenly call a transportation special session of the General Assembly to begin June 23. Truth in reporting requires us to call it a Special Tax Session. Governor Kaine's plan doesn' leave out much. It increases the sales tax in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia from 5 to 6 percent, something rejected by voters in those regions in 2002. Governor Kaine also would have us pay more for cars by increasing from 3 to 4 percent the motor-vehicle titling tax as well as another $10 increase in the cost to register our vehicles. Governor Kaine doesn't stop there: He also proposes an increase in the grantor's, or property seller's tax, of 10 cents per $100, just as the real estate market is tanking. Detect a theme here?

How anyone can fathom adding a tax to house sales right now, on top of the fee for mortgage and refinance originations as part of former Democrat Governor Mark Warner's 2004 record tax increase? (By the way, does he like his successor's plan?) What does this show of Governor Kaine's understanding of basic economics? Why do he and other liberals complain about getting branded as big taxers and spenders when they thoughtlessly and reflexively propose more tax increases for every problem (real or imagined)? The fact that spending cuts and prioritizing never seriously are considered shows a true lack of imagination, leadership and courage.

There are at least two reasons why we do not support increasing taxes for "fixing transportation." One is the lack of a constitutional amendment to protect Virginia's Transportation Trust Fund from being raided. The other is the depression era law that controls how Virginia funds its transportation needs. Until those two issues are resolved, Virginians should not be asked to send more money to Richmond to fund a broken system.

It is a misnomer that conservatives are anti-tax. We're anti-tax increases when taxpayer money is wasted on useless programs that often are counterproductive, when taxpayer money is not used for constitutional purposes, when politicians want to start new programs (especially during a shaky economy) to buy their "legacy" (pre-K, anyone?), and when government is so big and bloated that waste and abuse are rampant. When spending is cut in real terms and re-prioritized, and only constitutional functions of government are funded, then let's talk about taxes.