Many think transportation will be the overriding issue in the November campaigns — for governor and the other races. The Hampton Roads Daily Press has a great editorial about the obfuscations many politicians throw out there about it.
Spare us the promises of “restoring trust” to the transportation trust fund. Creating a “lockbox” or some other contrived malarkey for trust funds will only deny the legislature needed flexibility in the future – the kind of flexibility, when faced with a recession and dwindling receipts, that comes in very handy.
Same goes for the proposed constitutional amendment to “protect” the transportation trust fund. It’s meaningless at best and, at worst, could inspire similar efforts to protect this fund or that fund. Really want to protect transportation monies? Then just do it and desist with the stop-me-before-I-kill-again legislation.
Likewise, put the quietus to the sloganeering, label-as-remedy approach to transportation policy. In the current session, legislators have proposed a virtual parade of new “funds.” There’s the “public-private partnership incentive fund,” the “local congestion migration fund,” the “rail enhancement fund” the “commonwealth transportation incentive fund” and the “transit capital fund.”
You may collectively refer to these as the All-Utility Blue Smoke and Mirrors Funds. Each, by its lonesome, is unobjectionable and intentionally so. You put a little dab of money in and it fits nicely into your campaign brochure.
But if “Virginians have lost faith and confidence in how their tax dollars are spent on transportation,” as we’re constantly told, it is because the political system – for nearly two decades – has rested more upon resume enhancement than real, cold-cash road building.
If, for instance, your big idea is to divert revenue sources that currently flow into the state general fund – insurance premiums, for instance – you haven’t done anything but that. You have moved money from one purpose to another and probably with little discussion about the effects upon the first purpose.
Which is how I also feel about the car tax rebate. Those who promote getting rid of it and having the state reimburse localities just means we need to replace one tax with another or cut funds.
Or, if you just go out and borrow against future federal highway funds – which Virginia did a few years ago – while not being candid about the transaction and debt-maintenance costs, then you’re just kidding yourself and deceiving others about what has actually been achieved.
A similar dance is now under way in the name of “public-private” partnerships. Why, if we just provide a few incentives here and there for greater private participation, we might transform how transportation services are delivered in Virginia!
No, you won’t. There’s a role for these sort of public-private efforts, even an expanding role. But at the end of the day a road is a road and profit is profit. The opportunity for mixing the two will always be limited.
So many legislators are now running around promising innovation and rising productivity as the answer to road woes that some, in fact, may believe it’s true. But you still have to provide the money. It has to come from somewhere. You would have better luck chasing after leprechauns than in believing that it will ever take something other than folding money – raised somehow, some way – to build roads.
When the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates, for example, gets up and says, as it did last month, that it was presenting “a transportation plan that does not include a gas tax or any other type of general tax increase,” then it was announcing that it didn’t have a plan.
It is that fact, indifferent to the wiles and artifice of political marketers, that sits now before the candidates for state office this year. Will they be honest about the cost of improving transportation in Virginia, and who will have to bear that cost? Will they talk about tolls? Will they talk about taxes? Will they talk, candidly and forthrightly, about the inevitable decline in economic competitiveness that will follow further inaction?
The 2005 General Assembly was nearly as big a flop on transportation as the one the year before. Now we’re going to have some campaigns. We will discover in short order whether the pretenders will be any more interested in what’s real and necessary than the present bunch.
I disagree with Tim Kaine’s position of phasing out the car tax, but give him credit for honesty — and courage — about transportation.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, said yesterday that a long-term financial fix for transportation, possibly including higher taxes, will be the “big thing” for Virginia’s next chief executive.
…”I’m not going to take anything off the table,” Kaine said.
But the Daily Press won’t be happy that he followed that remark with “But until we lock up the transportation fund, I’m not talking about new revenue.”
I’m with Kaine on this one. We have a right to some restrictions on how funds promised for one priority can be diverted to another.