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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 [1]. It limped out of the House earlier today on a 53-46 vote [2], 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.