Transportation Update: What Just Happened ??
By Delegate Danny Marshall
Your Virginia General Assembly is, by the design of our founding fathers, a “part-time” legislature. Our legislative sessions in Richmond are usually handled in 45 or 60 days. The rest of the year we live and work among the citizens of our district. The idea is efficiency and less state government interference in your lives.
We have just completed a “special” transportation session called by Governor Tim Kaine, who declared a transportation “crisis.” This session cost the Virginia taxpayers more than $100,000. It is interesting that there was no transportation “crisis” recognized during January and February when we were putting together the state budget. Actually, during the 2008 regular session we restored $180 million for key transportation projects that the Governor had diverted to other projects.
When we reconvened this week, the Governor’s proposals of tax and fee increases that he had presented at more than a dozen town hall meetings across the state were not even agreed to by his own party. When his original bill was brought to a floor vote in the House of Delegates, the vote was 0 yes and 98 no. This was the bill that Martinsville Delegate Ward Armstrong carried for the Governor.
What just happened? Why were we called to Richmond when preliminary work had not been properly completed? The Governor called the session. It is his responsibility to request that bipartisan committees work on viable solutions before the whole body was called in to vote, if indeed he was expecting a workable solution. I have never been very tolerant of wasting time and money, especially for political grandstanding.
I will be straightforward. All proposals introduced by the Governor and the Democrats were to raise taxes: higher gas taxes during a time of record high gas prices, higher taxes on auto sales during an auto industry recession, higher taxes on home purchases when the housing market is already down, and a higher sales and use tax when consumers are already cutting their family budgets to make ends meet.
If legislators do not vote to raise taxes, we are summoned back to Richmond to “take responsibility, to make the hard choices.” Raising taxes seems to be the first and only answer in some minds for solving all problems. Is that really the hard choice? Actually, it is relatively easy for a legislature to do-- just press the voting buttons and declare that taxpayers must reach in their pockets and give the state more money. How innovative is that? The hard choice and responsible position during difficult economic times is taking the money you have and spending it carefully and wisely, while looking for all possible solutions to problems. Many Southside citizens seem to agree, since that was the overwhelming theme in the responses sent to me on my district survey.
While we were in Richmond we did try to make progress without raising statewide taxes. There were bills introduced that were geared toward responsible spending and laying solid groundwork for use of transportation money. The results are below. You will see a pattern of those who refused to lock up transportation dollars for transportation use only and who voted against accountability and alternative solutions. Note the House has a Republican majority and the Senate has a Democrat majority.
- Transportation Trust Fund Constitutional Amendment – HJ 6005 (Danny Marshall-R) combined with/rolled into HJ 6001 (Oder-R)
- Provides a guarantee to the citizens of Virginia that money dedicated to transportation will be spent on transportation.
- Passed House 94-0, Senate Adjourned Before Taking Action
- Provides more realistic assessment of maintenance needs and revenues that will be available, as well as thorough audit of VDOT to identify waste and inefficiencies. Based on successful Washington state model.
- HB 6023 Passed House 95-0, Left in Senate Rules
- HB 6046 Passed House 90-0, Killed in Senate Finance
- Transportation Accountability Commission Enhancement – HB 6051 (May-R)
- Clarifies that Commission has a direct role in overseeing the PPTA process as practiced by VDOT or the other agencies within the Transportation Secretariat. Helps ensure that needed projects are delivered more quickly – thus speeding congestion relief and saving taxpayers money.
- Passed House 98-0, Left in Senate Rules
- PPTA Expedited Schedule – HB 6044 (Hamilton-R)
- Provides specific timeline for acting on critical PPTA projects so VDOT will be forced to act on these proposals in a timely manner.
- Passed House 67-28, Killed in Senate Transportation
- Bridge Maintenance Contracts – HB 6047 (Lingamfelter-R)
- Provides means to maximize allocated resources to address bridge maintenance and improve safety. Based on successful Missouri model.
- Passed House 86-6, Killed in Senate Transportation
- PPTA Concessions for Hampton Roads – HB 6019 (Hamilton-R)
- Directs VDOT to impose tolls or issue an RFP for a transportation concession on three major Hampton Roads transportation “choke” points and on all Hampton Roads HOV lanes that are converted to tolled HOT lanes.
- Passed House 51-44, Killed in Senate Transportation
- Offshore Drilling Royalties –HB 6006 (Saxman-R)
- Dedicates future royalties from offshore drilling of natural gas and oil in Virginia to transportation funding, Chesapeake Bay clean-up and energy research and development.
- Passed House 56-39, Killed in Senate 16-18
- Transportation Funding for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads – HB 6055 (Hamilton-R)
- Provides up to $600 million in Northern Virginia and $300 million in Hampton Roads for transportation funding through dedication of 30% of future growth of certain revenue sources derived from economic activity relating to Dulles and Reagan National airports and the Hampton Roads Ports respectively.
- Passed House 51-45, Killed in Senate Finance
Each year we have addressed transportation issues and increased the funding. Here are some seldom-publicized facts:
- In 2005, invested $850 million to reduce congestion (HB 1500)
- In 2006, built upon that progress by directing $568 million in surplus dollars and ongoing funding (HB 5002)
- In 2007, financed largest investment in two decades, $3 billion for road, rail & transit projects. (HB 3202)
- In 2008, restored $180 million in funding for key projects diverted by Governor Kaine. (HB 30)
I still believe that this was NOT the right time to raise taxes statewide, but it WAS the right time to pass common sense legislation that would secure the transportation fund and explore alternative ways to alleviate transportation problems. What just happened….we missed an opportunity.
Delegate Danny Marshall represents the 14th House District which includes:
City of Danville: all precincts
Henry County precincts: Ridgeway, Irisburg, Mt. Olivet, Fontaine, Hillcrest
Pittsylvania County precincts: Ringgold, Ferry Road, Brosville, Bachelors Hall
District office: 434-797-5861
Postal mail: P.O. Box 439, Danville, VA 24543Website: www.dannymarshall.com
NOTE: The above Op-Ed was previously contributed to the Martinsville Bulletin, prior to the publication of Sunday's biased editorial. It remains to be seen whether the Bulletin publishes the other side of the debate or not.
(I'm taking bets via e-mail, right now the odds are long against it.)