brochures will claim that the 2005 General Assembly
raised $850 million for transportation. That's
pure spin. Look closely, and you'll find that as
little as $23 million is new, ongoing spending.
the 2005 General Assembly coughed up $850 million
And they did it without raising taxes,
offending family values or missing a single
legislative reception. The path to re-election is
smooth. There is no point in discussing
transportation any more.
Consider that opening blast of sarcasm a
belated nod to my late and lamented journalistic
hero, Hunter S. Thompson.
This has been a bad year already.
Hunter Thompson. Hunter Andrews. Two men
who wouldn’t suffer fools.
It is pleasant to imagine that somewhere
those two are swapping tales over a tall one. (Senator,
don’t take that pill from him.
It’s NOT a vitamin.)
back to our original fantasy – a transportation
you think we’ve fixed anything, I’d like to
sell you a bridge. In
fact, VDOT may try that funding scheme next out of
if we can sell naming rights on a stadium, why not
a bridge or a stretch of highway?
Why let the politicians name them for free?
Forget Woodrow Wilson, what am I bid for
the name of the new bridge on the
I waste my time on Bacon’s Rebellion is
beyond me. I
sat in the transportation committees all session
long waiting for the presentation on the Jim
Bacon-E.M. Risse legislative package to reform our
human settlement and mobility patterns.
No such bills were introduced.
I’m starting to suspect that it’s just
is a shame, because the approach has merit and I
wish somebody would try to give it concrete form.
we can’t wait.
will be made by Election Day of the $848 million
Governor recently called it the greatest infusion
of cash into transportation in
history. Everybody during the session, from the
Governor on down, admitted that this year’s
investment of mostly one-time money was only a
“critical first step” – Speaker Bill
that the session is over, however, communication
passes to the political consultants, who will do
all in their power to claim that the problem is
solved and their clients are the best friend the
Virginia commuter ever had.
Rumor has it even the Governor might have
another election in mind.
$848 million figure doesn’t survive close
number that matters is the amount of money the
Assembly dedicated on an on-going annual basis.
You can’t build a six year plan on a
one-time infusion of cash.
The on-going revenue that should be around
for an entire six-year plan amounts to only $131
million a year.
Totals (in millions)
||Growth in Existing
from General Fund Surplus (One-Time)
Tax on Auto Insurance Policies (On-Going)
Car Tax (On-Going)
It Is Spent
Off Internal VDOT Project Deficits
Service on Federal Revenue Notes
Trust Fund Addition
Costs for Transit
Private Project Fund
of the $848 million isn’t even the General
It includes $477 million in growth in
existing revenue sources, most of it from a new
estimate of federal funds.
Had the General Assembly never come to
town, this money would have gone to transportation
all along. The
Assembly is responsible for adding only $371
that, $240 million in cash came from the excess
general fund revenue (a.k.a. the surplus).
But there is no reason to expect a future
General Assembly to do that again.
The only long-term funds are the $131
million from the insurance premium tax on auto
policies ($108 million) and the tax on rental cars
hard-core cynic, were one around, would point out
that the insurance premium tax was actually
pledged to transportation in 2000 by Gov. Jim
Gilmore and that year’s Assembly.
So the only new, on-going money amounts to
$23 million a year.
It is long fall from $848 million to $23
really put it in perspective, consider this.
The current revenue from the various
transportation revenue changes adopted in 1986 is
about $800 million annually.
The recent VTRANS 2025 study estimated we
will need another $925 million a year just to
maintain what we are doing in the face of
inflation and rising maintenance costs.
House tried to do better.
It sought to provide even more of the
insurance tax money, and it had a worthy if
controversial idea to impose big fees on bad
drivers and put that money into the pot.
The Senate said no, in part because it
didn’t like the idea and in part because it
wants to bring back a much bigger transportation
package in 2006.
Is the insufficient long-term funding the only bad news?
For the first time the budget directs that $97 million in
federal highway funds be spent on maintenance
projects, many of them long deferred. In recent
years it has been the federal money keeping the
construction program from a total shutdown. This
diversion of federal money to needed maintenance
is a warning sign that such a shutdown is coming
towards us rapidly.
The Senate killed the House’s proposed constitutional
amendment to prevent future raids on
transportation funds for other purposes. Many
people will remain reluctant to accept tax or fee
increases for transportation if they worry the
money will be diverted.
They would be more reluctant if they
understood that the Assembly rejected the
Governor’s plan to stop using transportation
revenue to subsidize various executive branch
The two chambers couldn’t even agree on the goals or
reporting deadline for a legislative study
Finally, budget language reinforces the General
Assembly’s demand that if there are tolls
imposed to pay for new lanes on Interstate 81,
those tolls will be imposed only on commercial
truck traffic. The Virginians (and Yankee
tourists) who drive passenger cars and SUVs up and
down that congested highway will continue to be
told that the problem can be fixed without any
additional dollars coming out of their pockets.
If I have to indulge in fantasy, I prefer the one with the
two Hunters and their great conversation at the
Valhalla Bar and Grill.
March 14, 2005