The Changing Political Dynamics of the Transportation Debate

I hinted in an earlier Road to Ruin posting, and I’m elaborating on the idea here, that the election of Tim Kaine is scrambling the political calculus of the transportation debate. Sen. Finance Chair John Chichester, the seeming lord and ruler of the state Senate, may lose the power to control that body’s deliberations to the extent that he did under the Warner administration. That, in turn, may make it much tougher to push through a transportation-related tax hike in the 2006 General Assembly.

I have next-to-no knowledge about the inner workings of that body. I’m taking my cue from Bob Burke’s description of last week’s hearing by the Statewide Transportation Analysis and Recommendation Task Force. As Burke wrote:

Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, objected in the opening minutes of the START meeting that too little time was set aside to talk about transit and land-use issues. Those topics “always seem to be a footnote. It’s always, ‘Let’s spend some time talking about money, and if there’s a spot at the end… maybe we can talk about land use.”

Hmmm. Let’s see…. A Democrat has elevated land use to a central issue in Senate deliberations on transportation. Tim Kaine made land use a centerpiece of his transportation policy during the campaign. Could there be a connection? Of course there is!

During the Warner administration, Chichester could always count on support from the Senate Democrats in squelching the Senate’s few low-tax conservatives because Chichester and the Democrats were aligned with Gov. Mark Warner, and against the conservatives, on the need for tax increases. But Tim Kaine has declared that he won’t support a tax hike for transportation until passage of a Constitutional amendment protecting it from fiscal raids by the legislature. He also wants to address the dysfunctional pattern of land use, an underlying cause of traffic congestion.

Whatever the Senate Democrats’ views on taxes, they will feel a strong partisan pull to back a Democratic governor. And if Tim Kaine is against new taxes, at least for now, they may be too. Although Senate Dems may have little philosophically in common with the low-tax Republicans, they may decide to make common cause tactically to turn back a Chichester bid to raise some $1 billion to $2 billion a year in new revenue.

The state Senate has 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. If the Dems line up solidly behind Kaine, all it takes is five conservative Republicans to block any tax-hike legislation coming out of the Senate. Chichester may be able to ram his preferred legislation through the chamber, but there’s a good chance that he’ll have to fight like hell to do it. Such a prospect may force him to be more bending in budget negotiations with the House than he has been in past years.

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3 responses to “The Changing Political Dynamics of the Transportation Debate”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Five conservative Republicans vote with Dems to stifle His Lordship Sir John Chichester on a tax raise? The flipside of the RINOs in the House in 04. That irony would be delicious. But, it is a bit harder to cook up. A Republican senator who bucks John Chichester will pay a price that a Republican delegate who bucks Speaker of the House Howell never has to pay.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Will we see the Commonwealth under Kaine engage in educating localities on how they can more effectively plan for future land use? Or even further will we see the Commonwealth enact new statewide or regional controls on landuse in an attempt to get land use policies more in tune with transportation?

    IMO, localities are saddled by the political inability of thier boards to say no to anything that goes against the Comp Plan. The Comp Plan gets written and looks great but then virtually every request for a rezoning and variance that comes before the various localities gets approved… rendering the Comp Plan’s goals and ideas moot.

  3. Academics who have studied and measured land use and traffic now conclude that there is little to be gained by city form as in interconnecting streets vs cul-de-sacs or density/mixed use characteristics with regard to transportation.

    Other factors such as wealth and other demographics far outweigh land use as drivers for traffic. Those policies that do reduce traffic do so primarily by raising the cost and/or convenience of travel, with considerable economic consequences. In such cases the distance traveled is reduced but the time spent traveling is not.

    To simply say that dysfunctional land use is an underlying cause of traffic congestion is most likely wrong.

    Even if it turns out that there are land use policies that can partly help, they cannot help current conditions, they are likely to be very expensive to conduct, and they won’t have any effect for many years, by which time conditions and traffic patterns will have changed. Even Senator Colgan recognizes these facts.

    Because the policies take so long to take effect, either you must enforce a long term plan with no possibility of change, which is unlikely in a Democratic society, or the policies will come under attack and be rescinded one or two administrations down the road.

    This is an idea that can have nothing but bad consequences. If it fails tying thes issues together means we will have bad land use AND bad traffic management. If it succeeds, it will probably wreck the economy by limiting economically beneficial travel and wrecking private property as we know it today.

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