Another Broken Promise

Normally, I save Pat McSweeney’s columns for publication in Bacon’s Rebellion, but his most recent report is too important and too timely to sit on. According to McSweeney, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has yanked support for a bill that embodied his winning campaign issue: giving municipalities more power to block rezoning projects that would overwhelm the surrounding transportation system. This story has gone unreported as far as I can tell (in another example of the ongoing failure of the Mainstream Media to cover land use issues).

Here is McSweeney’s account of what happened:

Just last week, Kaine had another opportunity to honor his campaign promise to give localities greater authority to control growth. He was pursuing an amendment that would add his legislative proposal to a House-passed bill dealing with the use of cash proffers for road improvements.

That House bill had been reported by the Senate Local Government Committee on a unanimous vote and had strong support in the full Senate.Kaine abruptly withdrew his support for that tactic after actively pressing forward in that direction for more than a week.

The chief patron of the House-passed bill, who agreed to let Kaine use his bill as a vehicle to keep the governor’s growth proposal alive even at great risk to his own bill, felt let down by Kaine’s change of heart. Slow growth advocates expressed great disappointment upon hearing of the governor’s reversal.

Kaine’s official explanation was that he felt that the amendment might ultimately be rejected by the House of Delegates. Slow-growth advocates were more than willing to press ahead because they consider a recorded vote in the House on this measure a victory in itself.

The real reason for Kaine’s unexpected abandonment of this central element of his growth control strategy may be his desire to appease developers…

I don’t know if Kaine cut a deal with developers or not. I’m open to the possibility that there’s more to the story than McSweeney reports. And I’ll be the first to say that I had problems with Kaine’s campaign proposal, which I thought, if handled improperly, would have make development patterns more dysfunctional, not less. But if McSweeney’s report is accurate, Kaine has some ‘splainin’ to do. First, he broke his promise not to raise taxes until after a constitutional amendment protected transportation funds from budgetary raids. Now, he is betraying his Smart Growth supporters on their core issue.

Kaine may get away with this maneuver in the short run because Virginia’s political reporters have defined the transportation debate as a budgetary issue, all but ignoring the land use dimension, and the editorial writers in the major daily newspapers (save Richmond’s) are salivating for tax increases. But betraying the constituency that gave him his winning edge over Jerry Kilgore — and there is widespread acknowledgement that tapping the Smart Growth sentiment in Northern Virginia’s suburbs put him over the top — will not help Kaine govern in the long run.

Update: James Young at the Skeptical Observor has posted correspondence from Del. Robert Marshall, R-Manassas, who carried Gov. Kaine’s legislation in the House. A Marshall letter to Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, confirms the basis of McSweeney’s column and, indeed, may have been the basis for it. For some strange reason, Blogger is not accepting a direct link to Young’s article. Cut and paste this URL to your address line:

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5 responses to “Another Broken Promise”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    If the MSM reported that with no bill number, no named sources, no even “off the record quotes”, you’d be the first to call that unprofessional. How would McSweeney know what the Governor was or was not doing with regard to a possible amendment? What you reproduced is hearsay and gossip, hardly uncommon at this stage in a session, but hardly reliable.

    Give us some details and maybe it will gain credibility. Even with what you have, perhaps the Governor is engaged in negotiation with the House and having them go “on the board” on an issue they would perfer not to vote on is not a good way to advance friendly relations.

    The more interesting story is the Post report on the preparations for a media and lobbying push on targeted Republican delegates. Again, only unnamed sources. Take it with a grain of salt.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I don’t see how you can support more liberal zoning to create more density and at the same time support more restrictive zoning on the basis that it will cause congestion. If local government has both the responsibility for building roads and the ability to prevent construction that causes the need for roads, what do you think will happen?

    I don’t see how you can oppose Kelo style condemnation for the purpose of gaining more revenue and oppose construction for the purpose of preventing revenue expenditures. Except for timing, it amounts to the same thing.

    The county and all the residents that previously pruchased in that area know, or should have known, how much other land was available for construction, and they have had plenty of time to plan accordingly. I’ve never seen a purchase agreement that grants the owner control over the adjacent lot. As surrogate for all residents, the government should not have that right either.

    If it is a matter of re-zoning, they already have the power to deny the application. The applicant has the power to sue. So, just as in everything else, the county needs to make a decision about what is cost effective. It is too bad, but the way this works out is that big builders get preference because they are more of a threat. It’s the same with Kelo: the wealthy and well connected have more ability to game the system.

    Your other position, that zoning needs to have less regulation and more ability for innovation, more clarity, and more predictability helps to remove the option of gaming the system. Unfortunately that means you have to let more people do what they want to do.

    I think it’s called a free market. You just can’t have it both ways.

    As you say, if this is handled improperly, it could make development more dysfunctional, but I don’t see how you can have authoritarian central planning and free markets. We can’t even agree on what constitutes sprawl, smart growth, transit oriented development, or rational new urbanism. We don’t know or can’t agree on whether smart growth means slow growth, dense growth or no growth in my back yard. We have no idea what the combination of growth pressure and growth controls will do to affordable housing or where. Who is the Wizard that is going to decide what is proper and improper? Maybe the mitigating factor is that the Governor considered all of this and decided it was a dumb idea, or at least one that hasn’t been sufficiently defined.

    The article in todays Post about the other Metro located development that got turned down is an example. Here is a place that is close enough to Metro that it is papered with No Parking signs, but the county says is too far away, and too dense, yet the areas around it are already in townhouse territory.

    The government already has a legal method for preventing development where they don’t want it: they can buy the land. Instead, they just let people twist in the wind, sometimes for years, unsure of what their options are, or restricted to options that someone else thinks are “proper”.

    Buying the land forces some salutory thinking on the part of government. A) How much is it worth to us to get what we want in this location? B) Might it be cheaper or more cost effective to allow the development, collect the taxes, and provide the services? C) If we buy it we are in the same boat as the present owner: what to do with this valuable resource?

    The usual deal is that if it is your resource, you get a major voice in making the decision what to do. This regulation, if passed, would be worse than Kelo. At least with Kelo the owner gets some compensation, and he knows when the game is up.

  3. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    Anon, you wnat the details? Here you go:

    Thanks to Jim Young for posting the above last Wendnesday.

  4. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Thanks for the plug, RE. It was Stalin or Mao who noted that “Gratitude is a disease of dogs,” but if so, color me a golden retriever.

  5. Steven Avatar

    Dogs? Hmmm…

    Did Gov. Tim ‘the choir boy’ Kaine lose another halo? So much for faith-based campaign promises.

    ~ the blue dog

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