Transportation Session Wrap-UpKey sentence to take away with you:
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.
"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.