Transportation Interruptus?

Transportation Interruptus?

After nine months of debate and discussion, Virginia’s General Assembly has given up for now on transportation funding.

A special session, convened in March, had been on hiatus throughout the summer. It was scheduled to meet for four days last week, but adjourned after two when it became apparent that none of the proposed plans would find a majority.

Philosophical differences stymied all attempts to generate more transportation funds. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the State Senate and Democrats in the House of Delegates generally had similar ideas. Each suggested increasing a package of taxes and fees, dedicating money to transportation funding.

However, the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates said it would be irresponsible to increase taxes at a time when the state has a budget surplus. They proposed a plan that would involve borrowing money, using money from the surplus and taking money from other government services.

"The Republican caucus thinks the way to do it is to raid the money from education, public safety, human services and the environment," said Del. Steve Shannon (D-35).

A handful of house Republicans, led by Fairfax delegates Dave Albo (R-42) and Tom Rust (R-86), supported a compromise bill which would have both raised some taxes and taken money from existing revenues.

The bill failed, and Albo blamed both sides, saying that neither side was willing to compromise. "My group is the only group that offered a compromise," he said. "Even I didn't like parts of my bill, that's why it's a compromise."

Albo-Rust would have raised about $1.5 billion for transportation, but would also have taken $878 million of existing funds to do it.

Albo had not had an opportunity to see the impact on existing revenue prior to the start of last week's session. "I had no idea it was that much, " Albo said.

He said he would have changed the bill to take about $400 million from existing revenues.

He pointed to a $336 million surplus which would have gone a long way toward funding the $400 million this year.

He acknowledged that the surplus would not likely be present in future years. He said that taking the money from the state budget would have resulted in smaller increases in other government spending, such as public safety and education, not cuts to those programs.

AFTER EACH of the various plans was rejected, the assembly was left with nothing left to consider, so the lawmakers went home.

Shortly after adjournment, both sides issued statements blaming the other for the impasse.

“The House leadership and its hand-picked members of the Finance Committee guaranteed that no bills offering a real solution to the transportation funding gap were given consideration — even legislation offered by Republican members from congested regions of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads,” wrote Kaine.

Speaker of the House of Delegates Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg) countered that the Governor’s and Senate’s plans had been rejected prior to the special session, and neither had proposed anything else.

“Because neither the Senate nor the Governor offered plans of their own for this Special Session, the defeat of the House Republican Transportation Plan means there is nothing left to consider,” he said in his statement.

The General Assembly next meets on Jan. 10, 2007 — an election year for all 140 members.

"Frankly I'm not sure anyone expects the General Assembly to be in any mood for heavy lifting in the 2007 election year," said Kaine spokesperson Kevin Hall.

Shannon agreed that little movement is likely. "Until we work out the philosophical differences, I don't see much happening," he said.

Albo disagrees. He says that if the assembly does not act next year, all incumbents are likely to pay the price at the voting booth. "What [voters] think is, 'I'm stuck in traffic, and it's the General Assembly's fault. The government's not working.'"