Gutting the McDonnell transportation billPolitics

If this report is true, then it appears Governor McDonnell willing to make just about any sort of deal on transportation. Such a deal, though, may require sacrificing the centerpiece of his current proposal: the elimination of the gas tax…

When asked about whether the elimination of the gas tax would survive negotiations, Howell told reporters that lawmakers were considering its removal.

“I think what comes out of the conference committee will be somewhat different than what goes in,” Howell said. “That [gas tax element] could be a change.”

Lawmakers from both parties and transportation experts say a deal also may require Republicans to raise revenue, perhaps by agreeing to index the gas tax to inflation or boosting the sales tax, while Democrats may have to budge on their refusal to use general fund revenue on roads and highways. A deal may also have to address the desire by cities and urban counties, such as Fairfax and Arlington, to include regional funding options.

The Speaker has made it clear that some sort of regional funding mechanism is on the table. And that may help explain why Sen. Walter Stosch’s bill to give certain localities the ability to impose income taxes that neither require a referendum nor expire has made its way (with ample Republican votes) through the Senate. Now that bill has finally gotten some wider notice:

When the transportation bill moved through the House, Northern Virginia delegates from both parties were largely united in their concerns that the General Assembly grant them the authority to find regional funding solutions. But they also want to make sure that Richmond doesn’t use regional funding plans as an excuse to foist most of the funding responsibility onto urban localities when it should be the responsibility of the state.

As a result, several expressed alarm over a measure — passed by the Senate and sponsored by Sen. Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) — that would make it easier for some jurisdictions to impose a local income tax to pay for roads.

The standard line is this would let the state off the hook for funding transportation. Maybe, maybe not. Several large local governments have had the power to put such taxes to referendum, but none have. It’s also critical to note that Stoch’s bill would lift the restriction in existing law that any such revenues be used for roads.

But an even bigger concern is what the compromise looks like when the wheeling and dealing is done. If it’s tax hike bill, as opposed to a transportation fix, then Republicans will have voluntarily fallen on their swords. It’s made worse if they surrender the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the gas tax. Problematic as that approach is, it has the singular advantage of wiping out a tax. That’s the selling point. Drop it, and what’s left is a dog’s breakfast of tax hikes leavened with regional mumbo-jumbo that may or may not do a thing to fix transportation.

It will also force AG Ken Cuccinelli to make a choice: support the plan, and stick with Bob and the GOP leadership, or walk way and offer something entirely different.

  • Mike Barrett

    So Norm, its’t in time to stop the charade and admit that we can’t fix transportation without more taxes? Frankly, who cares how the increased taxes are paid; compared to not having a functioning transportation system, it matters not much what form the taxes take.
    if the Governor thinks changing the form of taxation is the most crucial issue, perhaps he would have had more success with his proposal. Fact is, most of us in the Commonwealth know we must pay much higher taxes to finance the damage done to our transportation infrastructure. That is the issue we must deal with.
    These machinations detract from the main issue; that is, when you are billions of dollars behind in maintenance, repair, and construction, fund the new taxes any way you want, just do it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

      Because what we have now works so swell..

      • Mike Barrett

        So your point James is we should cut funding for transportation even more? Frankly, to me, if that is the republicans response, it would simply be another example of the ignorance caucus at work in the House of Delegates.

        Other examples in Virginia include prohibiting the use of the words “sea-level rise” or the furious witch hunts against scientists that dare to use the term climate change.

        Point is, the republican caucus may want to deny the extent of the crisis they have created by their no tax policies, but in the end, truth and common sense will win out.

        • EricMcGrane

          How did you glean “cut it more” from James’s comment? AKA, making crap up. Sigh.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

          Mike, if you look beyond the tea leaves and take off the red or blue lens, there is a reasonable bipartisan way to fund our roads that does not raise taxes and eliminates a gas tax that was never a good formula even in a static economy. Index a sales tax on motor fuel to the cost of building and maintaining roads and lockbox the funds for the regional infrastructure improvements so we do not over or under fund expenses by an excess margin. Is the current proposal perfect, no, but it is better than what we have now. Is there room for improvement and refinement? Absolutely.. and I think this is the target the AG is gunning for. No tax hike is the best option if possible while funding roads is a hot priority we must address because it is costing us economic opportunity all over Virginia. Without good roads we lose economic activity and stunt the growth we must plan for. If we fail to properly model our means of funding transportation budgets the impact in the short and long term will not make economic sense for anyone anywhere in Va. Look at us locally in south eastern Va. We are blessed with terrrific ports yet we lack the roads to accomodate the present road and rail traffic let alone the increased traffic load that we will have to factor in if the growth trends developers like you envision come to fruition.

          Fair Tax put out a great book with great ideas. What Ken and Bob have shown support for is not perfect but better and fairer than the obsolete gas tax we have now. A hidden upside to eliminating the gas tax, depending on how a sales tax for motorfuel is levied, is a reduction of wholesale prices.. if its done right.

          • Mike Barrett

            Frankly, I am less concerned about the form of increased taxation than the requirment that we raise more revenue. It appears as if the some brave republicans in the Senate have finally broken with the intrasigence of the Party to try to break the logjam that has prevented the revenues we need to stop the deterioration of our transportation infrastructured.
            Whether this will prevail in the Conference remains to be scene. But now that the truth has been revealed, that is, republicans are willing to admit that “no taxes” is not a solution but an impediment to problem solving this issue, republicans will not be able to put the genie back in the bottle.

      • EricMcGrane

        Gas tax is a use tax, and is appropriate. Taxing every damn thing purchased is a coward’s way out. It certainly isnt a conservative position. This is really simple:

        1. Cut out ALL the fat from the budget, including all depts and services that are “elective”.
        2. If you still cant raise enough money, then increase gas taxes to meet the need.

        Establishment politicians want to shift this to sales tax, so its EASY and they don’t have to exercise ANY effort. And its a new revenue stream to be exploited at the whims of those politicians.

  • Mike Barrett

    So now, all bets are off. This morning’s action by the Senate Finance Committee is the first time in a decade that the topic of transportation has been discussed in a significant way. This action by Senate Finance to pass this proposal is a major step forward. When it passes the floor of the Senate with likely full democratic support and some republican support as well, it will set the stage for one heck of conference committee.
    This is finally talking real money to fix transportation, both on the state level, and for regions as well. Since a part of the Governor’s bill is in here, he can choose to claim that he is part of this initiative. This provides hope that the drought of support for transportating funding may be nearing an end.

  • Mike Barrett

    So things change fast in Richmond. Now, the issue is, will House Republicans spike the carefully constructed transportation plan passed by the Senate, supported by all twenty democratic Senators, and courageous republican Senators, the Lt. Governor, and sorta kinda by the Governor himself, who seeks a legacy in his last year of office, even if that legacy is no longer of his own making?

    Frankly, the worm has turned quickly. The no tax legacy so carefully constructed by Bill Howell and the anti tax republicans for two decades, is now beginning to crumble under the evidence of the failure of this ideology to produce results. As the Commonwealth declines daily under the weight of crumbling transportation infrastructure, reduced funding for K-12 education, failure to pay for employee benefits, transfers of obligations to local governments to make the state official look like they are cutting, and even higher and higher tuitions for colleges and universities, the ideology of Speak Howell based on degegulation, privatization, and small government is beginning to fray around the edges.
    If republicans force this compromise bill on transportation to fail, it will be the end of their tenure in charge. It may not happen this November, but make no mistake about it. Failure to pass this Bill will have long term effects on the republican party, and these effects will prove their inability to govern this Commonwealth.

  • Mike Barrett

    No matter what happens this next week on the transportation bill, it has been an astounding turn of events in the last few weeks. Essentially, the McDonnell Administration has accepted compromises that far exceed anything this republican administration has ever been willing to agree to. In fact, it appears as if republicans have finally realized the damage they have caused by their obstinance in refusing to fund transportation infrastruture, so the Governor has decided he simply will not allow this no “tax ideology” to prevail again. Having gone this far, I cannot conceive that republicans will kill this bill, but if the do in the face of near universal agreement that significant new funding is required, they will causing their own demise.