Well, after going through the stages of grief and finally accepting that we will have another four years of what will likely be a continued assault on civil liberties, an attack on the middle class (while paying lip service to its “values”) and more hypocrisy on Capitol Hill (re: the “DeLay Decision”), it’s time Commonwealth Commonsense re-focuses on the next year here in the Old Dominion. Only New Jersey will join Virginia next year in holding elections. Members of House of Delegates will face re-election with the top of the tickets headed by candidates for governor, lt. guv and attorney general. In between, we have the General Assembly session, which may shake out as an unexciting denouement for the Warner tenure.

Neither he nor legislators seem eager to address the transportation issue, the left behind step-sister of last year’s tax reform. So we may to rely on Dels. Dick Black or Bob Marshall to pull something out of their bizarre hats to entertain us.

Traffic Jam
Localities are holding their breath that the state government doesn’t pass the traffic buck by making them responsible for road maintenance. This Washington Post story doesn’t do a very good job of outlining the issue, but it has the obligatory sound bites.

“We have no control in the placement of those roads, and we have no control on anything but how they’re constructed — then all of a sudden, we inherit them whether we want them or not,” Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) said last week. Chichester, the Senate’s chief budget writer, will outline his own transportation initiative when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 12.

… “We must find more comprehensive solutions than this,” said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. Referring to 1986, when Virginia last passed a gas tax increase for transportation, he said: “We cannot wait another 17 years to deal with these problems comprehensively.”

Former Governor Gerry Baliles thinks traffic will get worse before it gets better.

Why? Because of continuing population increases, rapid within Virginia’s urban corridor. There are 6.8 million cars and more coming. And that doesn’t include, as Baliles points out, the umpteen zillion cars and trucks moving through the state constantly.

Vehicle travel in Virginia over the past 12 years? Up by 29 percent.

Vehicle travel in Virginia over the next 15 years? According to estimates, up another 40 percent.

It’s a bleak picture that already costs, Baliles said, “an estimated $1.5 billion a year in delays and wasted fuel.” Vehicle repair costs, thanks to increased numbers of accidents, run more than a billion dollars annually.

At least, Baliles has some ideas.

“For far too long,” Baliles said, “there has been a disconnect between land use decisions and transportation funding and construction … too often the analysis is confined to a quite limited land area and not viewed for its contributing impact on the capacity of the regional transportation network.”

He’s quite right about that. Baliles also thinks it’s time to do something about it by considering a “transportation capacity plan” for proposed land use development.

It would impose an obligation on local governments, before they load up intersections with development (for the tax revenue it generates), to certify that the existing roads/intersections/ramps can handle the increased traffic.

Failing that, the local governments would have to explain where the money to improve the highway facilities would come from.

Baliles also pondered a different approach to the appreciated values of the land that surrounds intersections. “Perhaps the time has come for the commonwealth to consider some means by which those increased values above a certain percentage are captured and placed into a state and/or local transportation trust fund, the proceeds of which can be used to finance other needed transportation projects in the future.”

Of course, what help is that to areas like eastern Loudoun County where the homes are already there but adequate roads are not? The folks in western Loudoun want to keep their horse farms and seem willing to let the easterners choke on their own fumes.

PAC Men and Women
Meanwhile, a new PAC of moderates is on the prowl. They’re definitely looking for tax-supporting Republicans to protect and perhaps a few to challenge the flat-earthers.

The organization, announced last week, intends to groom and maintain General Assembly candidates and incumbents who favor “responsible” investment in education, public safety, health care and transportation. In the current climate, that means protecting incumbents who supported the $1.4 billion tax increase by the 2004 General Assembly.

It also means backing some challengers to lawmakers who didn’t. Take the “Virginia’s Least Wanted” poster distributed by anti-tax guru Grover Norquist and various compatible Virginia groups, and flip it. The 19 Republican delegates and 15 GOP senators that Norquist would most like to defeat are the same 34 legislators that Leadership for Virginia would most like to re-elect.

The big question is whether this group, owing to its GOP roots, will let the “never met a tax I didn’t want to kill” GOPers who make it through any primary challenges remain uncontested in the general election. Adding a third candidate, a la last year’s 32nd district race, doesn’t do anything more than dilute the Republican vote. May moderate Democrats approach? Not certain. I’ve had a chance to talk to several of the leaders of the new PAC this past summer. They’re being cagey so far. In the long run, incumbents become entrenched. It seems if there is a chance to reduce the flat-eartheres to flat-liners, Leadership for Virginia might want to take a chance on some Dems. Mark Warner hasn’t been a disappointment.

Southern Strategy
Speaking of the Gov, there was an interesting op-ed in The Washington Post Sunday, saying Warner is enjoying 60% popularity in Virginia because “winning over red America will take a lot more than going goose-hunting in a borrowed sportsman’s coat” a la John Kerry. (Ouch!) Warner has convinced many red-meat Republicans in the poorer areas of the state that he really cares for them and has policies to prove it. Is it a “winning Southern model”? Well, it won once. That’s more than the national Dems can say for the last four years.

Yes, Virginia, There is an Election in 2005
And there is hope for Dems in next year’s election. The Bush victory in the Commonwealth might be like past Republican presidential elections which didn’t hurt “Chuck Robb, Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder and Mark Warner, each of whom was elected in a year following a lopsided vote in Virginia for the Republican presidential candidate.” Perhaps, as the Bert Lahr intoned in The Wizard of Oz, it’s all about “courage.”

Voters aren’t likely to examine the details of Kaine’s policy proposals. If he manages to project boldness and concern on key issues such as health care and transportation, he will at least get credit for leadership and for seeming to care. As the misguided Mark Earley gubernatorial campaign in 2001 proved, a Republican must do more than shout “liberal” when his opponent offers bold proposals.

Not Again
Meanwhile, the Va. GOP, apparently lacking an original idea, has decided to pin the “flip-flop” label on Kaine.

“Tim Kaine Flip-Flop Watch” in an attempt to bolster its claim that the presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial frontrunner is wavering on the issue of whether or not he supports an increase in the state gasoline tax.

But the Va. GOP, lacking a Rove Svengali, is not convincing, at least to the Augusta Free Press.

The Friday [GOP press] release included quotes attributed to Kaine in recent newspaper stories – including one from The Augusta Free Press in which Kaine said it is his position that “that there are people saying that Virginia’s gas tax is the 41st in the nation, and that we ought to take a look at that as far as providing money for the transportation trust fund …”

The full quote offered by Kaine to the AFP for the story No flip-flops here paints a different picture of his stance on a gas-tax hike.

“My position is that there are people saying that Virginia’s gas tax is 41st in the nation, and that we ought to take a look at that as far as providing more money for the transportation trust fund, but until we do something to close the hole in the fund, I would not support raising that tax or doing anything to provide more money for that trust fund,” Kaine told the AFP for the story published on Friday morning.

A quote from another story referenced in the RPV news release – a piece under the headline “Virginia’s would-be governors expect no new funds for roads” that was published in The Virginian-Pilot on Nov. 18 – also reads differently in its entirety.

“Kaine, a Democrat,” according to the partial quote from the news release, “said he would consider a transportation tax increase …”

But according to the full sentence published in the article, “Kaine, a Democrat, said he would consider a transportation tax increase only if the state constitution is amended to ensure that funds earmarked for roads cannot be diverted to other projects,” the paper reported last week.

Money, Money, Money
We’ll be reading a lot in the coming weeks about what to do with the bulging purse of Virginia state government. GOPers are crying foul, saying they new all along we didn’t need a tax hike. The Dems, on the other hand, are saying it’s wise not spend it like a drunken sailor. Easy come, easy go. Which to Northern Virginians, which provides “10 percent of Virginia’s gross state product,” means easy come to us but then goes to Richmond.

The clear fiscal fact of life is that the Washington suburbs have led the bail-out of the recession-ridden state during the early years of Warner’s administration.

And ironically, it’s the federal government, and its record budget deficits, that is the chief driver of Northern Virginia’s economic engine and the state’s budget surplus.

Warning: Spending money that’s based on federal deficit spending is hazardous to your financial health. After all, the Bush administration, having bankrupted the nation, will now plead there is no money, at least for domestic spending. But will there even be enough for defense spending to keep the NOVA money machine cranking.

I’m looking for real estate in Colorado!

Driver Ed
A personal note. With three teenage drivers in the house, and two tickets and two accidents to their “credit,” this struck home.

“Driver’s education programs don’t lead to crash reduction,” said Allan Williams, chief scientist with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the insurance industry and based in Arlington County. “The courses around here don’t teach you how to drive as much as how to pass the driving test.”

…What does improve safety, experts say, is experience — many hours of behind-the-wheel practice with a parent in the passenger seat, for example — and raising the minimum age for getting a driver’s permit or license.

…Sue Akey, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said parents need to look at themselves, too.

“This is an easy way to blame somebody, when they have to take responsibility for their children’s actions,” Akey said. “Parents have to step up to the plate. Even if [teenagers] had a year with a driving teacher, that’s nothing compared to the time they spend with the parents in the vehicle.”

Try to teach my kids how to drive? Somebody has forgotten a basic law of life: Teenagers know everything, including how to do things they have never done.