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Votes

Congestion in Richmond Too?

General Assembly votes for transportation bill, after partisan politics takes over.

Northern Virginia legislators have spoken: the region’s transportation woes cannot be ignored any longer.

Local legislators struggled with the details in the transportation package throughout the session, and ultimately passed the Republican-crafted bill in the House and Senate. Governor Timothy Kaine (D) said he intends to make significant changes to the bill before it comes back to the General Assembly in a one-day session, Wednesday, April 4.

In the meantime, Kaine will be traveling around the state to get a sense of what people want. Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37) said the bill has garnered legitimate complaints, both from the governor and the public, so "it will be interesting to see how that plays out," he said.

“I think he’s going to go out and be talking to people all over the state about the need to come up with other sources of

revenue, rather than bonds,” said Del. Dave Marsden (D-41).

But Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34) said Kaine will be using scare tactics to squash the bill’s portion of general funds, adding that the voting process and the bill became an extremely partisan issue.

She said he will be surprised when he hears Northern Virginians say they want traffic improvements for their tax dollars.

Del. David Bulova (D-37) said there is not an acceptable link between transportation and land-use in the bill. He also has concerns over the $2.5 billion in bonds the state would borrow. Once that money runs out and improvements still are not finished, that money is going to come from another program, like education or health care, said Marsden. “That will happen,” he said.

“I’m hoping the governor can make it a stronger bill,” said Marsden.

But Devolites Davis said the rainy day fund — the state’s savings account — is significant enough to provide a nice cushion in the event the economy turns south or the bonds run out. She said there is about $1.7 billion, and it’s only growing. The general fund is also growing, she said, mainly because of a tax increase in 2004. Ultimately, Devolites Davis said other programs will not need to be cut; they just might not get additional funding anytime soon. “The bottom line is we’re not cutting from any program,” she said.

“I don’t want to come back in four years and say 'all we did was shift the crisis,'" said Bulova.

Cuccinelli said he's happy about the tolling language that made it into the passed bill, which would more freely allow the construction of High Occupancy Toll lanes and toll roads. He said he would have liked to see a more market-based approach to transportation.

"The market-based use fee direction is really going to be good for Virginia," said Cuccinelli.

The bill calls for a gradual increase of general fund money, peaking at about $300 million, but averaging at about $172 million over time, said Devolites Davis. She said that both sides compromised, since the House wouldn’t have passed it without general fund money and the Senate wouldn’t have passed it without raising some taxes and fees. Some of the bill's opponents are not satisfied with the amount of general fund money proposed. Cuccinelli said the money should not be off limits, especially since legislators have made transportation such a priority. "General means general," he said.

I voted for it because we absolutely have to get started,” said Marsden. “We can fix sufficiency and sustainability; we can’t fix not starting this year, next year.”