It seems a toss-up which will be the hot issue in the upcoming legislative session: transportation or higher ed? And can there be anything more than lip service?

Well, the Guv has a plan. Much like his tax plan of last year, he’s not telling us yet. He says it’s not “asphalt only.” But get this.

He indicated that he wants extensive media coverage of it before he discloses his proposed amendments to the state’s budget on Dec. 17.

He doesn’t want to tell us what it is but he wants coverage. Wonder if the press will play ball?

Of course they will. A couple of days after the previous story appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the paper again ran a story about the Guv’s plan – with few more details. The AP, however, says public-private partnerships are part of the plan.

“The same old way of building roads that we’ve done for the last 100 years shouldn’t be the only alternative,” [Warner]said, “and some of the public-private approaches out there need some gap financing to jump-start them.”

He will also propose giving cities and counties greater authority and some funding to fix their own transportation problems rather than wait for the overbooked and underfunded Virginia Department of Transportation to do it.

“There are certain local jurisdictions that have been saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been waiting for years for VDOT to fix this intersection. Give us the money, VDOT, and let us try to manage the project and not go through all the bureaucracy.’ Well, we’d like to try that,” Warner said.

He said his initiative will greatly expand the state’s focus on rail travel and bus systems. A task force that has studied Virginia’s needs for passenger train service last month recommended greater access to rails, including lines that extend from northern Virginia and Richmond across the state through Lynchburg, Roanoke and far southwestern Virginia. The group also recommended a dedicated source of funding for rail transportation.

The Daily Press describes how a private partnership might work there.

Columnist Patrick McSweeney says Virginia private funding can provide “efficient transportation.”

First, we should recognize that government policies contributed significantly to our automobile-dependent system and that those policies should be reconsidered. Second, we should hesitate before we adopt any new government policies because they, too, may become inflexible and self-perpetuating, and could have hidden harmful effects of their own.

The better course is for government at the federal and state levels to do less, not more. Government transportation policies have produced a highly inefficient transportation system and encouraged development that can’t pay its own way.

Political pressures make it virtually impossible for government officials to make policy choices that would lead to a truly efficient transportation system. Only in a market-based, private enterprise system will the difficult decisions be made that produce real efficiency. There are signs that some of our leaders are awakening to that reality.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board adopted a state transportation plan that turns away from automobile dependency. The plan concludes that paying for all of our transportation needs through the year 2025 will cost more than $203 billion, which undoubtedly will not be generated by higher taxes. The board also wisely called on the General Assembly to resolve the longstanding problem of leaving land-use decisions to local governments without giving them responsibility and power to provide or pay for necessary transportation infrastructure.

The fundamental flaw in the board’s approach is that it assumes government itself can produce an efficient transportation system through top-down master planning. We need more investment in transportation, but we will see true efficiency only if that investment is made by the free enterprise system, not the government.

Exactly how, neither the governor nor McSweeney say, of course. Why private money is more efficient than public money isn’t clear. Figuring there’s got to be profit for the private sector to get involved, the question is will their profit margin be greater than the “inefficiency margin” of VDOT?

The group that takes credit for leading the charge to pass last year’s tax hike was told at a forum it sponsored that they can’t expect any new taxes for transportation, which was expected to top the Foundation for Virginia’s agenda this year. But the group hired a smart guy in Mike Edwards from the Municipal League to be its director.

If there is really any extra funds next year, state workers want them.

“An across-the-board salary increase of at least 6 percent is needed to help close the growing gap … between the commonwealth and the private sector, and federal and local governments,” says the 18,000-member Virginia Governmental Employees’ Association.

Trust me
Del. Chris Saxman (R-Staunton) said he doesn’t want any budget surplus to go to the transportation trust fund.There are very few trust funds in Richmond that Chris Saxman feels like he can trust.

“Off the top of my head, actually, I can’t think of one,” said Del. Saxman, R-Staunton.

Saxman is among a growing number of elected officials across the Commonwealth who have made it clear that they don’t want to see surplus monies generated as a result of tax increases approved by the General Assembly earlier this year put into any kind of trust fund.

“We have to be able to tell constituents that we didn’t do the right thing, or that some of us didn’t do the right thing, on taxes, and we should give some of it back. We should give them back a rebate,” Saxman told The Augusta Free Press.

Former governors Jim Gilmore and Doug Wilder have led the bipartisan effort calling for rebates to be paid to taxpayers in the wake of the news that the state could see somewhere in the area of a $1 billion surplus by the end of the current fiscal year in June 2005.

Gubernatorial candidates Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore, for their part, have said that they would support earmarking at least some of the monies for transportation projects and economic-development initiatives.
Saxman offered another possible state spending item – related to increasing pay for key state employees.

Can’t say I blame Saxman re the trust funds. Legislators raid them regularly.

Show Me the Money
Meanwhile, different groups are calling for tax hikes for transportation. In No. Va., they want a sales tax. In Hampton Roads and in Fredericksburg, they want a gas tax.

Steve D. Haner, of the state chamber of commerce, who gets apoplectic when someone suggests taxing businesses, thinks taxing workers is OK.

[Haner] acknowledged that there is little political will for tax increases but said that cannot stop the debate. “There are no signs of a major transportation revenue package this year,” he said. “But we are getting a consensus that probably was not there a year ago that something has to be done. That is significant progress.”

Here, Take the Money
Lt. Gov and presumptive Democratic candidate for governor Tim Kaine and his likely opponent Atty. Gen. Jerry Kilgore pandered to farmers, while saner Dems and a Republican criticized Kilgore as living in la-la land.

The Roanoke Times sees estate taxes differently.

Never mind that with higher thresholds, advance planning and the services of a competent lawyer, most Americans of even comfortable means are unaffected by the estate tax.

Never mind that among the minority affected by estate taxes at all, the impact is considerable only on the wealthiest handful.

But just as the propagandists have managed to transform the estate tax into a “death tax” (as if the deceased, rather than their heirs, pay it), so have the propagandists managed to raise false fears among millions who are not among the richest 2 percent of Americans whose estates are even subject to the tax at all.

Though estate taxes produce government revenue (in Virginia, the state tax yields $150 million annually), they did not arise mainly for that purpose. Rather, they arose as a way to place some limits on the amassing of private fortunes so immense they could harm the health of the republic. Estate taxes reflected wise fears about the dangers of excessive concentrations of wealth, and they reflected an ethic that prized work and its rewards over inherited riches.

Phasing them out isn’t really about keeping farms in the family. It’s about ensuring that those to whom much is given get to keep it all, generation unto generation.

Your Right to Break the Law in Privacy
Let’s make sure we respect the privacy of red light runners. If the arguments for such privacy are “thin,” maybe we should just call slender people “dumb.”

At Gov. Mark Warner’s latest higher education forum in Annandale many talked about the need to get more kids into college and not much about the charter school plan for Virginia’s top three universities. One observer thought that Democrats there seem to think they can fix schools by throwing more money at the problem without an underlying philosophy about the goal. What will more money bring us except more seats and is that enough? Regarding the charter school plan, Bob Gibson of the Charlottesville Daily Progress columns asks, “If decentralization is good for some schools, why not all?”

And here’s something scary.

The dropout rate varies from locality to locality and school to school, but overall, across Virginia and the nation, it’s one in four – an astounding number. One in four young people fails to earn a high school diploma. One in four is unprepared for the kind of jobs available in the economy of today and tomorrow. One in four enters adulthood without the knowledge and skills the state considers minimal. One in four will likely, at some point, have to depend on other, more gainfully employed citizens for support.

Drug Store
The Washington Post thinks prescribed marijuana is a bad idea.

The Roanoke Times thinks the case reveals conservatives’ hypocrisy about “activist judges.”

At first glance, the case of a far Southwest Virginia woman in jail for violating terms of her Tazewell County Circuit Court probation may seem to have little in common with the medical marijuana cases from California argued Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court. But there is this shared thread: The cases have undone, or threaten to undo, the notion that social conservatism opposes judicial activism and is reluctant to use dubious jurisprudence to achieve desired outcomes.

No sooner did the Virginian-Pilot laud

Political courage seems to be a dwindling commodity in Washington these days. That’s why Republican U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis deserves commendation.

Davis, whose district stretches from the Peninsula to Fredricksburg, was one of only 51 House members to vote against the 1,000-page, 14-inch-tall omnibus spending bill, a monument to government misspending and poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

…than she had to explain herself.

The news release says Rep. Jo Ann Davis “was successful in securing” several hundred thousand dollars in federal money for a Caroline County sewer project and a Fredericksburg anti-gang and drug task force.

What the release doesn’t say is that Davis voted against the omnibus bill that contains that funding.

Davis, who represents the Fredericksburg area, said she voted against the $388 billion spending plan because it was rushed through the House and lawmakers didn’t have time to read what was in it. The 1st District Republican was one of 51 House members to vote against the bill.

“My ‘no’ vote is against the process. There was a foot-and-a-half-thick bill that we had to vote on that we had roughly two hours to review,” Davis said. “No way could you review that bill in that time period.”

The omnibus bill was an amalgamation of nine different spending bills Congress hadn’t acted on. Somewhere in one of those was $300,000 for the new sewer system in the Dawn community of Caroline County, and $250,000 to establish the regional drug and gang task force.

“Those projects wouldn’t have existed had we not put them in,” Davis said. “I sent letters to the chairman, pushed the bills from Day One. I voted against the omnibus bill, I did not vote against the projects.”

Davis faced a common problem. Call it her own little flip-flop, and no fairer a criticism than that of Kerry was.

The special election to replace Thelma Drake as Norfolk delegate is heating up…while some pundits – one might call them die-hards – see Bush’s Virginia victory differently.

The election did not change the 8-3 GOP dominance of the state’s U.S. House delegation. And the Old Dominion, in awarding its 13 electoral votes to George W. Bush, continued a pattern of support for Republican presidential candidates unbroken since 1964. Meanwhile, both U.S. senators (neither of whom was up for election this year) are Republicans, and legislative elections a year ago returned solid GOP majorities to both houses of the General Assembly.

Yet beneath the placid surface, and with a gubernatorial election coming up next year, the political waters in Virginia are – well, if not exactly roiling, at least showing signs of life.

Others see rural folks as the key.

Warner Waxes Politically

Marshal Madness
While our favorite delegate, Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), waxes idiotically.

Deborah Vaughan’s ancestors came to Jamestown hundreds of years ago to escape discrimination, she said at a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

But purchasing a house and living in Virginia has made Vaughan and her partner Jennifer Randolph wonder if they have to face a similar fate.

A bill passed last year by the General Assembly discriminated against gays, Vaughan said. The bill denied gay couples any marriage rights afforded to straight couples.

“We would just like to have the same rights as everyone else,” she said at the town hall meeting held by the Prince William County area General Assembly delegation.

Vaughan spoke directly to the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Robert Marshall, R-13th District. Marshall disputed her charge.

“Homosexuals can get married,” Marshall said. “They just have to marry someone of the opposite sex. It’s a requirement of nature.”

Marshall likened gay marriage to using fake money.

“Same sex marriage is a counterfeit,” Marshall said.

Not content to restrict gay marriages and abortions, now he’s aiming for contraceptives.

Marshall supports laws allowing for differences of opinion between pharmacists and doctors in providing certain medications to patients. Marshall specifically mentioned some companies’ and organizations’ decisions to not distribute birth control pills, which he applauded.

And although Shaw has passed the stage in a her life where she would take such pills, she said she still wants Marshall to back off.

“You’re not a pharmacist, you’re not my mother, you’re not my father … you’re not God,” Shaw said.

“Not yet I’m not,” Marshall joked in response.

I don’t think he was joking.

But he’s gaining ground.

So it’s galling that a state advisory panel has sided with health insurers who refuse to pay for fundamental care for 50 percent of the population.

The General Assembly’s Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits has voted against recommending a bill that would require insurers in Virginia to cover contraception.

Other lawmakers are planning to get Virginia on the gay-bashing bandwagon.

And candidate for Lt. Guv Sean T. Connaughton is pandering to anti-abortionists.

Sean T. Connaughton officially launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor yesterday, casting himself as an “effective conservative” who can get the job done.

Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, first announced his bid at a morning news conference at the State Capitol and planned to make similar appearances during a three-day statewide tour.

“It’s time for new, effective conservative leadership at the highest levels of our state government,” he said.

Connaughton outlined a platform that includes reforming Virginia’s “broken” transportation program, the “Byzantine” state budgeting process and local government structure.

In an appeal to the party’s social conservatives, he drew applause from supporters when he referred to his opposition to “partial-birth abortion” and said the state needs to strengthen its commitment to President Bush’s faith-based initiative.