Senate nixes transportation bills. Is redistricting the key to a deal?

The Senate took up, and promptly disposed of, the various Republican transportation bills, including that of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The alternative put forward by Transportation committee chairman Steve Newman mustered only 18 votes, with all Democrats opposed. Another alternative, from Republican Frank Wager, was crushed 28-7. Of note, Democratic leader Dick Saslaw had a few kind words to say about Wagner’s bill, but he stood against it, as it would have raised the gas tax “only” 12 cents per gallon.

The Governor’s plan was sent back to committee — effectively killing it.

That leaves the House plan — which is still mostly the Governor’s original proposal — as the last bill standing. It limped out of the House earlier today on a 53-46 vote, with some notable Republicans voting against it.

The general mood is that the House bill is gasping for life. As Sen. Saslaw said, “the fat lady didn’t sing, but she’s warming up.”

There are a couple of ways to look at this…

1. Democrats killed everything, so any inaction on transportation this year is their fault.

2. The Senate has sent a message: you want transportation? Give us redistricting.

Pick your narrative and run with it, but be advised that the House is supposed to take up the Senate redistricting plan on Wednesday, and my sources tell me that Republican House members have been looking for any cover or support they can fins to kill that bill. If they do, then transportation is done, gone and over for this year.


Wasting little time, the Governor’s office issued this statement:

“On a day when a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute again ranked the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia/Maryland region as the most congested area in the country, the Senate Democratic caucus, most of whom represent that region, chose to vote on strictly partisan lines against progress on addressing these challenging issues. The Democratic caucus repeatedly said no to improving transportation in Virginia. They did this despite today’s study showing congestion costs Northern Virginians $1400 per person per year, and leaves them sitting in traffic for 67 hours every year. Rather than engaging in a debate on how to move forward with tackling our transportation problems, it is apparent that the Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, are once again content to risk our continued economic prosperity and our citizens’ quality of life. Their partisan, lock-step opposition to fixing transportation is incredibly disappointing. Sadly, the Senate Democrats appear to be the ‘Party of No.’

With their no votes today, these senators chose to vote against $1.8 billion for new construction, over $500 million in additional funding for transit, and over $270 million for passenger rail. Just last year, the Senate Democrats used the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, and their demands for additional funding to mitigate the costs of Phase II of the Dulles Metrorail Project, as their stated reason to repeatedly kill a budget. Now, just one year later, those very same senators today rejected the $300 million in this bill to lower the costs of the Dulles project, thus ensuring higher tolls for drivers in Northern Virginia. There is no defense for such an about face. Clearly, this was all about partisanship, not policy. Virginians deserve far better from their elected officials.

Clearly, the Governor is going with narrative #1.

Also wasting no time, Senate Democrats issued the following statement:

Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said, “I go home deeply disappointed tonight. Although we saw three different transportation plans on the Floor, all were woefully inadequate to the transportation challenges Virginia faces. I cannot vote for a plan that does not raise sufficient revenue to repair Virginia’s roads, bridges and tunnels; start long-delayed, needed new construction; and invest in mass transit. I also cannot vote for a plan that raids hundreds of millions of dollars from education and public safety.”

Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “I wish we could have reached agreement tonight, but none of the transportation proposals we saw tonight were anything close to the long-term comprehensive solution Virginia needs. The Governor’s bill has been fatally flawed since day one.”

Regarding Senator Wagner’s proposal, Senator Saslaw continued, “The average price of a gallon of gas last night was probably close to $3.15. That would have likely only raised about 25 cents per gallon. That’s nothing — not enough. And he gambles the other half of his plan on the Marketplace Equity Act passing Congress? This bill was poorly conceivedl (sic).”

Just as clearly, the Democrats are making their standard pitch: we want more money.

  • pinecone321

    Suck it up Gov. McDonnell. You have done more to “cross the aisle” with the Democrats during your tenure, and now just maybe you will find out that unless you give the Democrats every single little thing they want, and then more, you have no legs to stand on. You should have realized that long ago. This is not your grandfathers Democrat party. Hey, maybe Howell might have gotten that message, but that is doubtful. I’ll gladly pay you on friday for a hamburger today.

  • pinecone321

    Am I correct in believing that the R redistricting plan is dead, as well as the transportation plans?

    • Mike Barrett

      Redistricting is dead. Transportation is on life support, only to be resurrected if the Speaker can come up with a simple yet robust plan for funding transportation R& M and construction of major projects and get it through his caucus. Fat chance.

  • Pam Brown


    I don’t think the Gov’s Transportation Plan would have passed as is–with or without the Senate Dems.

    1) Speaker Howell needs to get on board with the “germaine” nature of the redistricting bill.

    2) Gov McDonnell needs to sign the Senate redistricting bill.

    Just my two cents here in Norfolk.


    Pam Brown

    Chair, Norfolk GOP

  • Pat

    The Governor’s plan was flawed. Allowing many out of state vehicles to use our roads with little to no money going to transportation. Yet, at the same time, raising the taxes on all Virginians to subsidize the truckers. Also raising other fees too.

  • Mike Barrett

    When this is all over, it sure would be worthwhile if some of you in the know could explain this debacle. Having been introduced at the last minute, with no preparation, when the Speaker of the House had said no major transportatin legislation would be introduce, it had an uphill climb under the best of circumstances. The bill was so tepid as to seem to be not worth the effort, and by taking funds from K-12 and other general fund programs, it guarantee a fight with democrats.

    So one must ask, why to it? The only plausble explanation is to make the bill so bad that democrats would not support it, it would lose, and the Governor and the Speaker et al could blame them for failing to fix transportation. That is what passes for leadership in the McDonnell Administration.

    But the bill was so weak, so tepid, so absurd and complicated, that argument is dead on arrival. Republicans now have no defense on November 5th for their continued inability to get anything done on the most pressing issure facing this Commonwealth. Since as a Party they are floundering on many issues, time for another group to take control and right the ship.

  • Mike Barrett

    For the first time in twenty years, we now have a realistic chance for a transportation bill worthy of passage. Republicans now know what they have to do to have a realistic chance of getting support from democrats; that is, pass a bill of at least one billion per year, include mass transit, put some money in for the general fund, find a way to provide separate funding for NoVa and Hampton Roads, and declare victory.

    This will take a herculean effort for republicans who know that the math is right but who are still living in a state of denial. But the rumblings around the state, even in rural areas, about the deplorable condition of our roads and other infrastructure, is causing them to reassese their chances of reelection in November based on their 20 year history of obstruction on transportation.

    Bob McDonnell could have been the facilitator of this shift away from the no tax tactics of Norquist and the Virginia House, but in typical fashion, he is simply part of the past, not of the future. He is simply too timid to take the bold steps required when real strategy change is required.

    If this national election did not drop him a hint, he must not get it. In the meantime, good old republican fear of losing may be the key to getting a deal. I have to believe it is still a long shot, but we have gotten farther this year than we have in two decades.

    For me, I hope citizens realize that we have this chance and they inundate elected leaders with the potential for success.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.