People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On The Legislature's Special Session

Here's Delegate Anne B. Crockett-Stark, Republican, Wytheville:
Transportation Session Wrap-Up

As I write this summary of the General Assembly Special Session, I would like to remind you that last year’s bipartisan transportation funding package, HB 3202, is still in place, and it still provides sustainable revenue statewide. For the 2008-2010 biennium, the Commonwealth has nearly $10 billion for its transportation needs. Two portions of this package were ruled unconstitutional – the Northern Virginia
Transportation Authority and the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority. It has been said that the General Assembly has had two Special Sessions that have accomplished nothing. This is not actually true. In our fifteen-hour meeting, it became obvious that legislators throughout the state from both parties had citizens who want no tax increases at this time. After long debate, the will of the people was carried out. Although, in the last year, VDOT has made many reforms, the House passed a bill to have an audit of the efficiency of use of funds by the Department. As I came home from Richmond, I went through three different sections of our Interstate system in which we were doing construction and maintenance. So, transportation needs are continuing to be met. Will there ever be enough funding for transportation? I can only say that transportation needs will always change and grow. Why? Because whatever we have built, whether it concerns boats, trains, planes, cars or trucks, it must be maintained and kept operational.

I sent out a survey to approximately 2,000 of my constituents as well as knocking on business, industry, and residential doors for citizen input for our transportation funding. I got very good feedback and interesting suggestions from more than a few of my constituents. Overwhelmingly, citizens felt this was not a good time to raise taxes when AEP has increased rates again, food prices have gone up, and gas prices are averaging four dollars a gallon.

On Wednesday of this week, the Virginia General Assembly went into its second Special Session of the summer. There were three basic transportation funding plans brought forth.

The first was Governor Kaine’s $1.1 billion tax increase. No one in the Senate chose to carry his plan, however, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D – Henry) carried it in the House.

This plan was the first plan placed on the House floor on Wednesday in order to have a healthy discussion. Delegate Armstrong requested a two-hour recess in order for the Democrats to caucus. He was only granted a thirty-minute recess based on the fact that both the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses had had a weekend session at the Homestead and had met with the Governor on Monday, dealing with transportation. Ultimately, this bill was publicly debated for over two hours on the floor before finally being defeated 98-0 (two Delegates were not in attendance).

The second plan was proposed by Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D – Fairfax) and included a six-cent gas-tax increase and increases in the statewide sales tax and motor vehicle sales tax. After passing the Senate and coming to the House floor, House Democrats amended out the gas-tax increase, but left the other statewide tax increases and additional regional tax increases for Northern Virginia. This bill was also defeated on the floor by a bipartisan vote of 39-59.

House Republicans brought another funding plan to the floor. This bill removed all new tax increases from the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. It designated 30% of all future growth in revenues generated in these two regions to be put toward transportation projects within their respective regions, while still sending the remaining 70% to the state General Fund. I, like some others, asked what that would mean for the future of Virginia’s General Fund. Delegate David Albo of Fairfax and Delegate Sal Iaquinto of Virginia Beach explained that without the roads and updates for Dulles and National Airports, and Hampton Roads Port, both people and import/export goods would find other ports of entry. With transportation needs being met, the economic growth would cause much larger revenues to be sent back to the General Fund in the form of taxes. It was a plan that did not further increase regional or statewide taxes; but would allow the two regions that pay the largest amount of taxes back into Virginia to meet their own needs and remain a driving force for the state. That bill passed the House, but the Senate sent it back to their Finance Committee.

The General Assembly’s second order of business was to deal with judgeships including a new State Corporation Commission judge, a state Supreme Court Justice, and various Circuit, General, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judges. The House of Delegates sent the list of those seats to be filled to the Senate and were ready to vote on all judgeships that had been agreed on by district Delegates and Senators. However, the Senate Leadership decided once again not to deal with any judgeships at this time. In the 29th Judicial District, there is a Juvenile and Domestic Relations judgeship to be decided.

Although some feel that this session was a waste, I believe that the healthy debates helped us to realize that this is not the appropriate time to raise taxes. There were creative plans of action both with and without tax increases that may be appropriate when we go back for our regular session in January 2009. We cannot know the will of the people, or represent the will of the people, except by meeting in order to know the
problems in each region. I truly believe we are still moving forward in transportation, albeit at a slower pace which acknowledges a slowdown in economic growth at this time. This session was a reality check for us all.
Key sentence to take away with you:

"Overwhelmingly, citizens felt this was not a good time to raise taxes when AEP has increased rates again, food prices have gone up, and gas prices are averaging four dollars a gallon."

Our first order of allegiance is to our families, not to the state. Food, fuel, and shelter come before the priorities set by others. Those in Richmond would do well to remember that.

Thanks for the update, Annie B.

The End Result

There are those on the left in this country who have argued for years that we needed much higher fuel prices in order to bring down usage and bring about a cleaner environment. While certainly true - if the price of oil goes high enough - the unintended consequences of such an occurrence have never dawned on these people.

Until now. Now that the price of fuel has gone exactly where they'd hoped:
Worry about the airport
Roanoke Times

We're working on an editorial for next week about the Roanoke Regional Airport. There are plenty of signs in the airline industry and regarding our airport in particular that point to trouble down the road. Maybe there's nothing to worry about, as airport officials say, but the region cannot afford to rely on rosy pictures alone. Local governments, the airport, and fliers need to have a serious conversation about what, if anything, can be done to bolster air services lest they disappear entirely. Without air service, Roanoke will surely wither. (link)
I'd say it's a fair bet that the Roanoke airport in its present form is doomed. The regional airport concept will be tougher to support in the future as airlines take a harder look at the fuel efficiencies that regional jets obtain, and scrap many of them because of their inherent inefficiencies, knowing too that the newer, bigger, more fuel-efficient planes flying in and out of a small airport don't fit the business model either.

So we are where we are.

Oil, as I've written for years now, isn't just the fuel that keeps planes in the air; it's the energy source that powers modern civilization. All the world's prosperity flows from it (like it or not). Start screwing with Mother Nature and the consequences will be devastating.

As the folks at Roanoke Regional Airport are about to find out.

Another Unintended Consequence

Southwest Virginia politicians - led by Congressman Rick Boucher - thought they had it all figured out. We could have the proverbial cake and eat it too. All we needed to do was create, promote, and nurture the tourism industry here in the mountains and (a) the people would prosper, and (b) we could maintain the pristine nature of our landscape at the same time. The environmental mantra we've read ad nauseum. (Oh, and it gets them all reelected too).

So the manufacturing sector has dried up.

And our blue collar workers have moved to Raleigh. And Yuma. And El Paso.

But to replace the shuttered textile and furniture factories, we have our canoe liveries and bike repair shops beckoning all them yankee tourists who will be flocking down here from up north, with cash in hand and checkbook at the ready.

Except ...

High gas prices taking toll on Turnpike
By Charles Owens, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Bluefield — High gas prices are continuing to take a toll on ridership along the West Virginia Turnpike.Traffic from both commercial and passenger vehicles are down. Visitation to Tamarack is down. Revenue generated from toll collections along the turnpike also are down.

[Turnpike General Manager Greg Barr] said toll roads and interstates across the nation are reporting a decrease in traffic, which is attributed to high gas prices. (link)
The West Virginia Turnpike is the canary in the coal mine. Unlike "experts," who guess at traffic flow, the Turnpike keeps a spot-on tally of highway traffic in the area. Its numbers are to be trusted.

And those numbers are not good.

This necessarily means that tourism traffic is down. Probably way down. With future prospects looking bleak.

A question for all you politicians - especially Rick - who staked your careers - and the vitality of our region - on there being an endless flow of northerners, with lots of disposable income, walking our trails and hiking our paths, and buying twinkies at our gas stations, do you have a Plan B?

- - -

It appears that Plan B won't be the farming sector.

And a Third ...

All those unskilled workers at the low end of America's pay scale:

Board Supervisor: Lower Paid Workers Need Bigger Pay Raise
By Debra McCown, Reporter, Bristol Herald Courier

Abingdon, Va. – A member of the Washington County Board of Supervisors says something should be done to make salary increases more fair to lower-paid county workers – before they can no longer afford the gas to come to work.

“I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t want them [top officials] to get a raise, but we’ve got to do something about the people who just aren’t making ends meet,” said Supervisor Paul Price. “You’ve got county employees who work hard and show up, and they just keep getting farther and farther behind.” (link)

The commute to work has gotten to be a burden for many due to high gas prices. Where's the tipping point? Where it's more cost-effective for a low-paid worker to stay home, rather than lose money driving into Abingdon from Marion to work four hours a day at minimum wage? I think we're about to find out.

High fuel prices. So many consequences.

Will Wonders Never Cease

I have occasionally over the years made the point that I am a more consistent defender of civil rights in this country than are the members of the American Civil Liberties Union. I can say that because I believe in - and defend - all ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights, not just part of the first, the fourth, fifth, and sixth, but not the second, ninth or tenth.

But the gap between my beliefs and that of the ACLU rank-and-file may be narrowing. This news is rather startling:

Nevada ACLU supports an individual’s right to bear arms
State affiliate bucks nat
ional stance, supporting the right to bear arms
By David McGrath Schwartz
, Las Vegas Sun

The Nevada ACLU has declared its support for an individual’s right to bear arms, apparently making it the first state affiliate in the nation to buck the national organization’s position on the Second Amendment.

The state board of directors reached the decision this month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals to own handguns.

“The Nevada ACLU respects the individual’s right to bear arms subject to constitutionally permissible regulations,” a statement on the organization’s Web site said. “The ACLU of Nevada will defend this right as it defends other constitutional rights.” (link)

One state chapter down, 49 to go.

This Is Forming a Pattern

"I didn't know I was getting a deal." How many Washington Democrats have said that in recent weeks? And will that excuse sway a judge when these jokers find themselves in court? The latest politician to be caught receiving graft and offering up the most pathetic of excuses:

Harlem Congressman Defends His 4 Apartments
By David Kocieniewski, The New York Times

Representative Charles B. Rangel on Friday angrily defended the unusual housing bargain he has been granted by a major real estate developer, saying that he did not believe he was being allowed four rent-stabilized apartments because of his status as a congressman.

Responding to an article in Friday’s New York Times, Mr. Rangel said there was nothing illegal or unethical about his relationship with the Olnick Organization, his landlord at the Lenox Terrace complex in Harlem. He also said that he did not believe it was unfair to avail himself of the multiple rent-stabilized apartments at a time of soaring rents in Manhattan and evictions of many rent-regulated tenants.

“I didn’t see anything unfair about it,” he said at a news conference he convened at the apartment complex, on 135th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. “I didn’t even know it was a deal.” (link)

The Republicans were driven from power in 2006 after several of its members were caught taking kickbacks from lobbyists and from those who have much to gain from befriended congresspersons (anyone remember Duke Cunningham?). The problem seems to be far more prevasive in 2008. And it involves the other party.

Let's see how this plays out.

The Consequences Of an Obama Victory

Daniel Henninger:
If he wins ..., the country would have a president who lacks personal and political clarity. This would give the politics of hope new meaning. What precisely do voters think they're getting? You don't have to wait for an answer. It will be supplied in January by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the House caucus and many others who turned professional after the '60s and know what to do with a big governing majority in Congress.
"Will Obama Let the Sunshine In? ," The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2008