The key to a transportation deal? The phony money

Picking up on the ideas Jim wrote about in our latest newsletter regarding the angst among some House GOP caucus members in wake of the Speaker’s trashing of the Senate redistricting plan…

The obvious question: why didn’t any House members appeal Howell’s ruling? The votes to win just weren’t there. If anything, the House caucus was united behind the Speaker, and those who might have entertained a challenge would have been perceived as attacking the Speaker personally. In other words, they would have committed career suicide.

Fine. Redistricting ends up in the circular file. What affect, if any, does it have on the other bill that defines this session: the lone, surviving transportation measure now before the Senate? One line of thought is that Speaker Howell and Democratic leader Dick Saslaw have reached an understanding on that. Over in the Senate, Mr. Saslaw will find the Republican vote he needs to amend the House bill more to his liking — meaning it will contain big tax hikes (and don’t forget about the regional authorities…yes, they are back on the radar).

This ugly thing will roll back to the House which will likely reject the amendments. Off we go to conference, where the real deals were always intended to be struck.

What can this handful of legislators do to craft a bill that will pass both Houses? The secret is in the money that doesn’t exist — that so-called internet sales tax.

Governor McDonnell’s plan, and the Senate Republican alternatives, all contained a prize fiction: most of the money for Virginia’s roads was going to come from a federal bill (that has yet to be introduced, let alone passed) which will give states the power to compel online retailers to collect state sales taxes. Nevermind that each state would then have to pass its own laws setting up such a tax regime. What matters is the perception that the state can simply reach out its hand and grab tens of millions of dollars.

Until those two large hurdles are cleared, and there is no guarantee they will be any time soon, it’s all phony money. And it’s the perfect ingredient for cooking up a deal.

That’s because, like the Governor, Democrats have a big incentive to see some sort of transportation bill pass in this session. The Governor came roaring out of the box when the Senate shot down all the transportation bills by labeling Democrats the “party of no.” Since then, the heat has been turned up another notch, with Democrats own words from the 2011 session — when, ostensibly, they held up the state budget because it did not spend enough money on certain transportation projects — being thrown back at them.

Democrats can’t afford to be seen as obstructionists, let alone hypocrites — after all, they have been the ones “moving Virginia forward” lo these many years. They need something, and the only something on deck is the (amended) McDonnell bill.

Enter the phony money.

Rather than have all that online lucre go toward transportation, Republican negotiators, with the Governor’s blessing, allow a portion of it to go toward, say, education (a perennial favorite of Mr. Saslaw). The percentages don’t necessarily matter — the money isn’t real yet, anyway. But each side is allowed to say it got something for its side and each chamber can, however reluctantly, give its blessing. The Governor gets his legacy, the Speaker gets a firmer hand on the caucus and Senate Democrats can say that they not only protected education from the axe, but ensured it a new (though still highly theoretical) money stream.

Most political folks go home somewhat happy.

The wild card in this happy ending, though, is Ken Cuccinelli. The AG has told us that he appreciates what the Governor has done to advance the debate on transportation funding and that something must be done. But the decision to get behind an alternative plan in the Senate, which failed, puts the AG in a ticklish spot with the Governor.

Is Ken on the team? Or is he off to tilt at windmills again? The other party who wants to know, of course, is Bill Bolling, who could benefit from a wedge between the Governor and his would-be successor.

There are any number of possibilities ahead of us — the Democrats could throttle the whole process by amending the McDonnell bill to such a degree that it’s unpalatable to everyone outside the progressive caucus. Or, House Republicans could decide to re-enact the disastrous 2004 session, when the abandoned their no tax ways for some tax increases, which were still less than what the Senate wanted. It’s compromise! What could possibly go wrong?

Or there could be no transportation deal at all and we end up at square one.

  • Mike Barrett

    I would argue that any use of internet sales revenue is to premature that it should not be inculuded in any formula for determining either increased funding for transportation nor the general fund. The fact that McDonnell included it is his plan was the first indication that it was a failytale, not a real plan to fix transportation
    But that notwithstanding, 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

  • Rosemary Time

    What do republicans get out of this ‘deal’? Even higher taxes and no new Senate districts. What would our prize have been if we lost? It had to better than this ‘deal’.

    Let’s remember that half of the transportation tax increase goes to subways to benefit less than 2% of the population and they will do nothing to ease traffic in NOVA or Hampton Roads. The whole state gets tax increases to benefit a few commuters in the richest counties, Fairfax and Loudoun. Doesn’t quite seem fair.

  • Rosemary Time

    If 90% or 100% of the money went to roads, I think we would all be in agreement. But it won’t.

  • DJRippert

    There have been two “big things” to happen:

    #1 – The Republicans’ big lie has been exposed. Indexing the gas tax to take inflation into account is not a “tax hike” in any reasonable sense of the term. Rather, holding the gas tax at a fixed number of cents per gallon is, in real terms, a tax decrease each and every year. Decreasing the gas tax hurts every jurisdiction with a growing population.

    #2 – Tidewater has “flipped”. The gross incompetence of a frozen gas tax has manifested itself in Tidewater with Bob McDonnell’s proposal of exorbitant tolls on Tidewater roads. This has caused many voters in Tidewater to think about the reasons for Tollbooth Bob’s fascination with high priced tolls. This, in turn, has further exposed the Republicans’ big lie. The transportation funding fiasco caused by the Republicans in the General Assembly isn’t a NoVa-only issue anymore.

    Both of these “big things” affect the governor’s race.

    Bob McDonnell seems to be the only Republican in Virginia with a shred of common sense or vision. The RPV will sorely miss him at the end of his term. McDonnell knows that the Republicans can’t continue to be the party of rural and small town Virginia if they are going to remain relevant. NoVa has a 2010 population of 2,623,079. Tidewater has a 2010 population of 1,671,683. That’s 4,294,762 people or 54% of the state total.

    The next governor of Virginia will be largely chosen based on transportation policy.

    McDonnell doesn’t need a great plan but he does need a plan. The more that “conservatives” like Norm Leahy and Jim Bacon complain about McDonnell’s plan the more they continue to hammer nails into the coffin of the Republican Party of Virginia.

    The Democrats proposed the common sense approach of indexing the gas tax to inflation. That was rejected by the half-wits in the RPV. Now, McDonnell is reduced to a Rube Goldberg scheme that he can sell to his own party. The Democrats are going to squeeze concessions out of McDonnell. He’ll have to acquiesce. You know why? Because the gross incompetence and culpable negligence of refusing to accept the reality of inflation in transportation funding now has 54% of Virginians “tuned in”. The Virginians in NoVa have already turned the dial from R to D. If Tidewater does the same it’s R.I.P for the R.P.V.

    Keep complaining and stonewalling Norm and Jim. You are helping Terry McAuliffe with each and every word.

    • NormLeahy

      I laid out how a deal might be done. If you consider that complaining, I suggest you switch to decaf before it’s too late.

      • DJRippert

        Yes, you laid out a deal which you consistently claimed was dependent on fake or phony money. Perhaps in Richmond that rates as “laying out how a deal might be done”. However, if you consider that constructive, I suggest you adjourn to Colorado or Washington State for further analysis of your so-called deal. From recent comments it seems that Mr. Cuccinelli might even be willing to join you in CO or WA. In those two states the two of you can legally accelerate your ideas to use phony money to solve real problems.

        • NormLeahy

          Done feeding this troll…

          • DJRippert

            Ah, personal insults. The last refuge of those who can’t defend their positions.

          • NormLeahy

            Nope. Just repaying in kind.

          • DJRippert

            Fine. You switch to decaf and I’ll take Cooch to Colorado to do some creative thinking about his stance on transportation.

  • Mike Barrett

    Today, in Hampton Roads, republicans have gone back to their tried and true methods; that is, filling potholes which serves as stragecic planning for republicans.

    What a perfect analogy for Governor McDonnell’s transportation policy. Having
    proposed a so called solution that is too tepid, too late, and too complicated,
    he is left with the same solution republicans have been left with for the last
    two decades; that is, patching potholes. You would think republicans would care,
    but frankly, they don’t. For them, no tax is too small, no failure of governance
    too big, to make them see the damage their policies of denial and decay have
    caused. But until we, the voters, kick them out of office, we will continue to
    get the shaft.

  • Mike Barrett

    At this point, the republican party in Virginia has transferred the issue of transportation to the Children of Virginia. Having spend over two decades of inactivity that has led to the virtual collapse of the state’s infrastructure, it will be another two decades to resolve the added funding that will be required to repair, maintain, sustain, and construct a future transportation system that works. This is an example of gross dereliction of duty by the republican party, by the Speaker of the House who is the major antagonist of increasing funding for transportion. The Governor has gone along from most of this time, as a Delegate and now Governor. He owns this issue as well, yet his tepid response is not up to the task.

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