McDonnell transportation plan passes Senate Finance, regional tax referendum dies, tolls need GA approval and a local income tax for PortsmouthPoliticsVirginia

A few transportation bills met their fate in the Senate Finance committee on Thursday, including that of Gov. McDonnell. His transportation funding plan passed the committee on a 10-5 party line vote. The vote generated the requisite press release from the Governor’s office, which stated, in part:

“Today’s action is another major step forward in our effort to enact a long overdue, long-term transportation funding solution. I now urge the full House of Delegates and Senate to pass this bill and keep Virginia moving.”

I’m sure that if the deal is good enough, it will pass. But keep an eye on the Senate’s redistricting measure, which the House has held over for consideration until Wednesday. That’s the ultimate bargaining chip.

A transportation bill that met a less hopeful end was the regional tax referendum measure put forward by Sen. Jeff McWaters. It failed to pass the committee 5-7, with bipartisan opposition.

A bill requiring the General Assembly’s approval before tolls could be imposed on the interstates easily passed the committee. This would tend to weaken the McDonnell administrations offer to drop the idea of tolls entirely if the Administration’s transportation plan wins General Assembly approval.

And for those residents of Portsmouth, the Finance committee approved a bill giving your local officials the power to levy an income tax that would not first require a voter referendum, nor would sunset after five years, both of which are mandated under existing law. Any revenues would have to be used for transportation. The vote was 8-5. For the curious, a list of other Virginia localities that can impose such income taxes can be found in the impact statement. But if you’re unable to open the file, here’s the relevant section:

Currently, the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, and the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach are authorized to levy a local income tax upon the Virginia taxable income of individuals, fiduciaries of estates or trusts, and corporations that have income from sources within such county or city. The local income tax may be imposed at a rate of 0.25 percent, 0.50 percent, 0.75 percent, or 1.0 percent. Within a county or city that imposes the local income tax, the same rate must apply to individuals, fiduciaries of estates or trusts, and corporations.

  • Mike Barrett

    With all the issues that point to a disaster with this initiative, most come down do the issue of transparency. Here we are dealing with the most glaring deficiency in the Commonwealth of Virginia, that is, the absolute collapse of the mechanism for funding transportation, one of the most important state functions that exists, and we look like the keystone cops on a bad day. Does anyone know who is on first base, and if they do, why is this so secretive and so mysterious? This is transportation, civil engineering, building roads, bridges, highways, and tunnels, this does not need to lack transparency. Goverments have been fulfilling this function since our nation began; why can’t this administration fufill this most basic of functions that is so critical to our economic future?

    Frankly, it is astounding that this is being put together on a wing and a prayer. This failure to govern must lie squarely with the Governor and the Speaker of the House. I don’t think a high school civics class could have made more of a mess of this than has been done in this session of the General Assembly. Please, just admit this is beyond your capability. Let new Delegates run on their abject failure to fulfill this basic function on government. If our voters then fail to response, that will be their, and our, problem.

    • DJRippert

      Virginia’s legacy of transportation failure goes way back. The gas tax is assessed in cents per gallon. There is no automatic way for that tax to rise with the increasing cost of building and maintaining roads. This might not be a problem if the General Assembly periodically increased the gas tax to take inflation into account. However, The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond doesn’t believe in inflation. So, they have not touched the gas tax since 1986. Today, the money raised from the gas tax buys less than 50% of what it bought back in 1986. All of our transportation funding problems stem from that fact. There is only one state which has kept its gas tax frozen longer than Virginia – oil drenched Alaska. It seems that the other 48 states have legislatures which believe in inflation and consider the Easter Bunny a fable, rather than the other way around.

      The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond’s last attempt to address the transportation funding problem was HB3202 – a bill passed by the lawyer laden General Assembly that was immediately and unanimously found to be unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court.

      In fairness, some Democrats in the General Assembly have tried to explain to their stump stupid colleagues (in both parties) that inflation does, in fact, exist. A recent effort in this regard was Chap Petersen’s recent proposal to index the gas tax to inflation. Needless to say, it failed.

      Against this backdrop of gross incompetence and culpable negligence Bob McDonnell is trying to make some progress. He must satisfy GA members from “welfare localities” who don’t want to pay for urban and suburban roads but feel completely entitled to an annual multi-billion dollar education subsidy from those same urban and suburban areas. For them, he has eliminated one tax while raising another. Meanwhile, the liberal infested urban and suburban areas have finally figured out that tolls of several dollars per mile will be their permanent future if something isn’t done. Hampton Roads is in open rebellion against the Republican plan to soak their drivers with exorbitant tolls. The Republicans have already lost all of Virginia’s sizable cities and most of Northern Virginia. They are one click of the dial away from losing Tidewater and becoming extinct. McDonnell has promised “no more tolls” if his plan is adopted to provide appeal to urban and suburban areas.

      Fundamentally, McDonnell’s plan has two big positives. It might just pander to enough of the half wits in the General Assembly to pass. Everyone hates it but nobody hates it enough to kill it. Maybe. It also automatically inflates with the general rise in prices. Since most members of The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond can’t understand inflation they don’t understand this benefit either.

      In a state with a competent legislature this proposed plan might not be good enough. However, in Virginia, it is better than anything that anyone else has on the table.

      Finally, the Republicans have the most to gain by passage and the most to lose by failure. Passage establishes Bob McDonnell and the Republicans as pragmatists who can get things done (even if they tend to lose their minds on odd social issues). It also keeps Hampton Roads in the Republican camp. The Democrats can legitimately point to the alternate ideas they have tried to pass. This is not their proposal and turning Hampton Roads bluer is in their interests, But, they really have to mind their p’s and q’s in their stronghold of congestion plagued NoVa. If they appear to be “the party of no” on transportation they might pay the price in NoVa this November.

      • Mike Barrett

        Yes, I get that, and in one of my recent posts, I have actually said that this is the only reason that McDonnell has put forth this tepid plan; that is, to hope that democrats kill it so he can at least blame them for the problems with transportation. But when you subtract the internet tax fairytale from the total revenue, this plan raises a bit over $2 B in five years, hardly enough for one year, must less five. Now some may claim this represents progress, put if we pass transportation increases in Virginia every two decades, this plan will witness the collapse of much of our infrastructure.
        Many folks I talk so want something to pass, but I fear that is a sop for republicans who ought to pay for their absolute failure to govern this Commonwealth. Providing only 2 B over five years, and providing some of that to the General Fund to take from K-12, is not much of a bargain. Better to make them pay at the polls. and hope that new Delegates will realize you can’t run a Commonwealth on the cheap.

        • DJRippert

          There are three main metropolitan areas in Virginia – Tidewater, Richmond and NoVa. This is where congestion hits the hardest and this is where politicians will “pay at the polls”. Unfortunately, Richmond’s transportation infrastructure was so overbuilt it suffers less congestion than would be expected for an MSA of its population size. Tidewater is starting to feel the heat of Virginia’s incompetence and NoVa is mired in the fallout from The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

          The problem for the Democrats is that McDonnell is doing something. That’s more than can be said for Kaine, Warner or any of the Democratic governors that have held office since 1986, Resisting forward progress without getting an alternative passed this session might just come back to bite the Democrats in the butt this November.

          • Mike Barrett

            Yes, I get your point, and the minimum I would require that would be enough to move forward on a transportation program that would be sufficient in size to at least pay a down payment on the amount needed to correct two decades of neglect by the republican party. So how much would be enough? It is the confluence of the amount for which McDonnell can claim a legacy and the least amount democrats think is worth the effort.

            I don’t know what that number really is, but the amount offered by McDonnell (without the internet sales which is a sick joke), is simply too small to even correct the imbalance of maintenance and repair. If an amount were offered that fixes M&R statewide and at least opens up the potential for some future construction of high value projects, that would be the minimum I would propose to make him a hero.

  • David Obermark

    I still say just raise the darn fuel tax.

    However following the link provided by Norman, I noticed the tax on diesel fuel will remain. We truckers need to pay our fair share, and if the tax on diesel is not rescinded along with the elimination of the tax on gasoline, I find this proposal less objectionable.

    But i still say just raise the darn fuel tax across the board equally for diesel and gasoline. I still think this is the fairest, most efficient method of obtaining the revenue for transportation from those who receive the most benefit. However, Governor McDonnell’s proposal is ten times preferential to relying on seriously wasteful tollways.

    If this is the best we can get out of the circus in Richmond, then I am willing to be reasonable and settle for it.

    • Mike Barrett

      Sorry David, you miss the whole point. The governor’s proposal is so tepid that it does not include any funds for construction projects. So if we want and need new construction, is will have to be funded by tolls, or added gas or sales taxes, not by this bill which is hardly sufficient for maintenance and repair.
      I know; you can’t believe it. Neither can most Virginians who gave up on this administration and this party long ago. Their failure over the last 20 years to deal with the most important function of government continues to astound most Virginians. The failure to lead on behalf of the Speaker of the House and his do nothing caucus and this Governor as well will go down in the annals of Virginia history as a collapse of leadership of the highest order.

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