Nothing Special About Special Session

Nothing Special About Special Session

The only good news coming out of the General Assembly's special session last week is that we did not end up taking money from schools, public safety, and human services and using it to pay for roads. (And that is actually very good news, since the plan pushed by the House Republican majority would have done just that.) Unfortunately, we also failed to deliver any kind of solution to our pressing transportation funding needs.

The special session ended up not being very special at all, as it was simply a replay of the regular session and the subsequent budget fight where we House Democrats, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Gov. Kaine were able to come together on a reasonable plan to deliver sustained, long-term transportation funding while protecting money for schools, public safety and human services. During the regular General Assembly session, the House Republican leadership, which controls the parliamentary process in the House of Delegates, refused to let the full House consider that plan. Therefore, when we eventually passed the state budget, it didn't include anything on transportation, with the understanding that we would address the issue during the special session.

During the months between the budget passing and the beginning of the special session last week, we tried to negotiate a plan that would at least help Northern Virginia but that would be acceptable to the die-hard anti-tax members of the House Republican leadership. The compromise plan would have allowed Northern Virginia localities to impose their own taxes and fees (averaging about $30 per person per year) to deliver more than $400 million a year in sustained, long-term transportation funding, all of which would have stayed here in Northern Virginia. The plan wasn't perfect, but I could have voted for it if they had let it get to the House floor.

We had hope that this plan would pass the House Finance Committee because it wouldn't have raised taxes or fees on the constituents of the anti-tax ideologues on the committee, and we hoped that at least some of them were open-minded enough not to stand in the way of letting Northern Virginia (and Hampton Roads, which had a similar regional plan on the table) solve its own problems. However, when it came to a vote, every single member of the Republican majority on the committee voted to kill the bill.

The plan House Republicans let get to the floor would have put only a tiny morsel of funding toward our $30-billion, 30-year need for transportation funds. Some of that money would have come directly from the General Fund — money that otherwise would go to schools, public safety, and human services. The rest of it would have been raised by issuing new debt through bonds that would have used the General Fund to pay the debt service — again taking money from schools, public safety, and human services. The real kicker is that part of that bond money would have been used to pay down existing debt for transportation, which would have been like using one credit card to pay down another credit card. I'm not necessarily opposed to using bonds, but debt is a financing mechanism and not a revenue source — somebody eventually has to pay the bill. Obviously, I voted against this debt-based plan — I believe we must protect the General Fund, and I also believe in pay-as-you go, not creating even more debt for my son's generation to pay off. However, this plan passed the House on Thursday and died in the Senate. Since House leaders refused to consider any other compromise option, they adjourned the special session.

I have often made the case that the policies we care about here in the 45th District will not come about until we work together to change the cast of characters in the General Assembly. This transportation struggle is a case in point. I hope come November 2007, when the entire General Assembly is up for re-election, voters remember who worked for a constructive compromise and who stood in the way of progress in order to protect their Grover Nordquist bona fides.