John Wilmes wants to know when Northern Virginia will get its transportation money back from the state.
"We in turn have been funding roads for 30, 40 years now, for the whole state," he said. "Why put the burden back on us as far as taxing us?"
The City of Fairfax resident was one of a large audience at a town hall meeting with Del. David Bulova (D-37) Saturday, Jan. 28, and like the majority of the crowd, he was concerned about transportation.
It is no secret that transportation is one of the biggest issues facing this year’s General Assembly, said Bulova. He also expressed concern about the distribution of transportation funds. The 2030 Plan helps out a little bit, he said, but will mostly just keep gridlock and other transportation problems from getting worse rather than solving them altogether. To Bulova, however, the biggest challenge with the issue is that even though land use decisions and transit go hand in hand, land use is largely up to localities and transportation decisions are generally made at the state level.
THE THREE transportation plans the General Assembly is looking at this session could not be more different in terms of approaches, said Bulova. Gov. Tim Kaine’s (D) plan adds to transportation funds with increased taxes on vehicle titling and auto insurance premiums, increased registration fees based on weight, and fees for traffic violators. Similarly, said Bulova, the Senate’s plan would raise the vehicle title tax and registration fees. However, it would not include abuser fees but would apply a sales tax to wholesale gasoline and to auto repair service as well. Both the Senate and governor’s plans would match federal earmarks of one-time surplus general funds for transportation.
The House plan would create less new revenue than it would rededicate existing general funds: $565 million of the existing recordation tax, $258 million from the 0.25 percent of the sales tax, and $277 million from current insurance premium taxes.
"My concern is that we get all this money, and it goes to projects around the state that don't really help Northern Virginia," said Bulova.
Audience member Jeri Busch said she wanted to see an integrated approach taken to the transportation issue. "Here in Northern Virginia, [transportation] is part of a broader integrated problem across many jurisdictions," she said.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, created in a 2002 General Assembly session, takes an all-encompassing approach, said Bulova.
"The place we are going to have the hardest time coordinating is … linking transportation ideas with what is happening on the ground in terms of local governments," he said. "Nobody has come up with a really good solution yet."
Development is strongly linked with transportation, said Bulova. Along with Del. Mark Sickles (D-43), Bulova put through bill HB 1542, which would afford localities more control in planning their development. The bill, now in the House of Delegates Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns, would allow localities to provide for transfer of development rights from one parcel of land to another parcel of land, "increasing the density of development on one parcel while restricting development on the other parcel."
Audience member Will Elliott wondered whether impact fees for new development were included in the transportation package. Elliott asked how they would differ from the previous proffer system, where a developer seeking a zoning change voluntarily offers meliorations to the development plan. According to Bulova, the fees would take place if a local government examined the impacts of the potential development and charged a fee based on those impacts. Unlike the proffer system, he said, impact fees would apply to all new developments, not just zoning changes.
However, said Bulova, they are not part of the governor’s transportation plan. He said the concept is a good one as long as it is not used to make new homeowners pay for a previous developer’s oversight.
Sally Ormsby, director of the Soil and Water Conservation District, mentioned a tree preservation bill that failed recently in the Senate. The House of Delegates does not have a similar bill, said Bulova, and so the bill will have to be looked at again next year.
"Fairfax County has been requesting this bill for three or four years, and it’s been argued against by an element of the community," said Ormsby. But tree preservation is an important issue in the state, she said.
Like many other freshman delegates, Bulova said he was surprised by the fast pace of the General Assembly session. He was also struck by the amount of power subcommittees have, he said, with just a handful of people deciding the fate of a bill that would affect the entire state. Bulova has experienced changes on some of his bills, he said, such as an anti-human trafficking bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34). The bill was rolled into other legislation sponsored by Dels. Dave Albo (R-42), Morgan Griffith (R-8) and L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31), and will be revisited in next year’s session, he said.
Another thing Bulova said he was pleasantly surprised by was the connection with constituents, even while in Richmond.
"A lot of people came down and visited," he said. "Those are the times that make my day."