The Dinosaur Speaks

Sen. John Chichester, R-Northumberland, has been eerily quiet the past few months. While the House of Delegates has unveiled one new transportation initiative after another, the powerful chairman of the Senate finance committee has said very little. But in a column published today in the Free Lance-Star, he has finally laid out his thinking.

The bottom line: Nothing’s changed. His top priority is creating “a reliable and sustainable funding source ” for transportation — in other words, raising taxes. He comes across as a philosophical fossil, his views etched in stone, impermeable to new thinking.

While Chichester does give lip service to the goal of “squeez[ing] as much as we can out of every transportation dollar,” his heart isn’t in it. He writes:

During its 2006 session, the General Assembly made progress on the reform front. We passed laws that better connect land-use and transportation planning; laws that require performance measures to be used to reduce traffic congestion and improve traffic safety; and laws that promote private investment through partnering opportunities. We do not need more legislation to do what has already been done.

That’s it. Nothing more needs to be done. The House has introduced far-reaching VDOT reform proposals and is preparing to roll out a sweeping land use reform package early next week, but Chichester has written them off as inconsequential. He doesn’t simply disagree with the House recommendations, he acts as if they do not exist.

Furthermore, Chichester doesn’t see much good coming from privatization initiatives. He totally mischaracterizes the thrust of the House platform:

Those same people say the solution is simple — just attract more private capital to our transportation system. If that means selling a road that already has been paid for by taxpayers to a private entity so taxpayers have the pleasure of paying a second time, I call that double taxation. Some prefer to call it private enterprise.

That’s a straw man. The House privatization initiative does not call for selling roads. It calls for creating a “a detailed Action Plan to increase the role of the private sector in the development of transportation projects in Virginia as well as the use of public-private partnerships.” That doesn’t preclude selling existing roads but the obvious thrust is to aggressively identify opportunities to invest in new construction.

Chichester goes on: “Those same people say we can solve all of our problems by outsourcing more to the private sector. That’s well and good, but it ignores the reality that we already outsource more than 70 percent of road maintenance and more than 90 percent of new construction.”

Balderdash, no one says that privatization can “solve all our problems.” Privatization advocates say that outsourcing is only one piece of a comprehensive solution. Furthermore, Chichester fails to draw a distinction between “outsourcing” as currently practiced — hiring private contractors to handle piece-meal jobs — and the kind of outsourcing that reform advocates call for. With genuine outsourcing, VDOT would contract with private companies to manage maintenance for defined stretches of roadway over several years. VDOT would set performance standards and the contractor would accept the financial risk for failing to meet those standards.

As in the past, Chichester has provided no indication that he understands the connection between land use and transportation — that scattered, disconnected, low density development generates longer and more frequent automobile trips than do more efficient patterns of urban design. He never mentions telework or telecommuting. He never mentions congestion pricing. He never mentions Intelligent Transportation Systems. He never mentions Transportation Demand Management.

It is scary: The most powerful man in the state senate embodies a transportation philosophy that seems frozen in the amber of the 1970s: Tax, spend, build — and trust the politicians to get it all right.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has stated that, while he also wants to raise taxes, he is willing to work with the House to find common ground. Unfortunately, Chichester has made it very clear that he sees no common ground. We can only hope that Senate Democrats and a handful of low-tax Republicans will craft a Senate majority willing to follow the Governor’s lead in working with the House.

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23 responses to “The Dinosaur Speaks”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Another Senator from the Fredericksburg Area and on the Transportation Committee – Edd Houck (D) was also quoted in the FLS this morning:

    “I know the problem exists, and I want to be optimistic that the House and the Senate can resolve it,” said Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania. “But in all honesty, I just don’t see where anything has really changed. You’ve got the same legislators, the same points of view. The only thing that’s changed are the seasons. I just doubt that the House is going to drop their ideological viewpoint and really get practical and try to solve this problem.”

    Houck said that as far as he can tell, the majority of senators still hold the position that a transportation plan needs to be sustainable and statewide.

    “The key thing is the funding, and I haven’t heard that there are statewide funding initiatives going to be introduced over in the House,” he said. “I think it’s still missing the mark of what really needs to be done.”

    Both Chichester and Houck are fairly well respected in the Fredericksburg Area and their views have credibility.

    Both of these guys hung tough during with Warner when (depending on one’s point of view) – “something” HAD to be done or else Virginian’s core services such as Education would suffer without a tax increase.

    Mark Cole (R-Delegate) and Bill Howell are also from the Fredericksburg Area – and disagree strongly with Houck and Chichester though they all have good working relationships.

    Their words are sobering to me.

    The “reform” issues as well as re-allocating small amounts of existing money for Metro are – in the minds of Chichester and Houck – “re-arrainging the deck chairs” when the problem is that the ship itself is out of fuel.

    The fireworks will begin Tuesday/Wed according to the FLS when almost 100 bills will be slice and diced by the committees … this is where most bills – no matter how promising they appear are summarily dumped and the votes at the time the votes are taken are often pro forma … already decided.

    What I would LOVE to see in Virginia is our own version of C-SPan in Richmond.

    The average voter would be quite shocked to see how the committees actually work. Anyone with a thin skin or who gets their feelings hurt easily .. better stay in the snack bar.. 🙂

  2. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Chichester is a reactionary Liberal. He should drop all pretense and run honestly as such in 2007.

  3. Isn’t building a toll road simply providing a funding stream (tax) that is well-targeted to the people who benefit?

    Is our argument NOT about whether Virginian’s already pay enough taxes to get all the roads we need?

    Is it instead simply an argument about how we can make sure our new taxes are applied to the right people, and benefit the right places?

    Any thoughts?

    While i’m at it, if transportation issues threaten our economy, and if all citizens benefit from road spending (two assertions made by Kaine I think in an article I read this morning in the paper),

    then why can’t we use general revenues to pay for some of the transportation fixes?

    Isn’t that what our general taxes are for, to improve the lives of Virginians?

    Why should transportation be treated differently from every other government service, if you are going to argue that it serves not just those who drive, but everybody?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “Clearly, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads have special and unique transportation problems that go beyond what a statewide system can support. I believe it makes sense to authorize regional solutions for those extraordinary needs.”

    If nothing else, perhaps some progress can be made on this front. IMO, it will likely come in the form of allowing localities to “join” a regional taxing district that dedicates “new” revenues to transportation.

    The problem will be in how you define a region. In other words, where does NOVA stop?

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think Charles is right on both counts.

    The bottom line is that more money is needed if we want new roads because without it – we end up with maintenance only from existing revenues.

    And the second point is quite nice – .. IF transportation IS a vital core service then why does it need a separate funding source – anymore or any less than other core services such as education?

    Isn’t the job of the GA to establish priorities and allocations for all core services – staying within it’s means – which is really the means of individual taxpayers.

    It’s not a good thing to automatically dedicate a quaranteed fund for ANY purpose unless your goal is to have that money spent – no matter what – without accountability for cost-effectiveness.

    I think this is the fundamental question with regard to Transportation and the idea that by have it “compete” against Education … sort of flies in the face of the job of our elected representatives – to establish priorities for the budget – not fail that responsibility and come back to taxpayers and essentially say “we cannot balance the budget because we cannot agree on priorities” so .. too bad… give us more money.

    I’m quite sure .. there are other viewpoints.. and I’ll probably get whacked for uttering such blasphemy.
    (and remember… I am NOT normally a Republican voting guy).


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I am all for more private sector activity in the transportation area, but for the life of me, where? I have yet to pass an even minor construction project or road repair and see any yellow truck there and state employees moving the machinery. It has been and is being done by private road building companies. Maybe outsourcing the design and land acquisition? Is there that much money to be made in the maintenance of gravel roads in Wythe County? Sorry to be so slow jumping on the bandwagon, but. . .

    I am not convinced that the House plan to move the CTB under legislative control is any better than what is there now. Just look at the prefiled bills – spend this much on my project and take the money away from that other region. What is to be gained?

    Also, once again all that is proposed is to take money away from the General Fund to address transportation needs. So, when the money has been pledged and the economy heads south, you will have that wonderful situation where education, metal health, etc. are having to fight the road-building contractors, real estate interests, etc. to keep from being slashed to ribbons. I can hear it now, “Well, we sold those bonds to add six additional lanes to I-66 and we certainly cannot let the investors down. I’m sorry that there are no more spaces for your special needs son. Perhaps, you should depend on your own resources rather than relying on the Commonwealth of Virginia. Why, just looks at how independent those road-building companies are.”

    Finally, how do you propose to undertake a seismic change in transportation policy in three days? Let’s get real.

  7. Bill Garnett Avatar
    Bill Garnett

    Having lived in Europe for a few years, I find it puzzling that the northeast corridor – down to Norfolk – doesn’t have a more effective, integrated, and efficient mass transportation system.

    I, for one, would gladly defer to a high-speed comfortable reasonably priced train ride that had frequent service along the Washington – Richmond – Norfolk corridor. I’d love to be able to spend a full day touring DC or a full day at Virginia Beach without the hassle of driving and parking. And I would imagine so would many others.

    We seem to have politicians who have no foresight, no imagination, and no political will to bring about public projects of this scale.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    to 1:28
    Even without using any general fund revenues for transportation, what happens when the economy heads south and tax revenue drops? There won’t be any transportation projects to defer to bail out education, mental health etc. So the situation for your favored social programs will be even more dire under your scenario.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Mr. Garnett – why would we want to copy anything that the Europeans do? With the exception of Eastern Europe and a stray country elsewhere, Europe is a stagnant, dying society with virtually no economic growth. But they have layers of bureaucracy and endless regulations and taxes.

    Over here, Amtrak is overstaffed with union workers, serves money-losing routes and needs huge subsidies. WMATA is regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as one of the most poorly managed operations on the East Coast. Notice that Tim Kaine had sense enough not to let WMATA anywhere construction of the Silver Line.

    We have problems in Virginia, but thank goodness we aren’t trying to become like Europe!

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    For me, there are some things in Europe that I wish the USA would copy. Europe has high speed rail, mass transit systems that work, the Autobahn where one can drive at 120 mph, and pioneered congestion pricing – one of the latest buzzword on Bacon’s Rebellion. Also, some of the groups seeking to purchase existing roadways in Virginia or build new ones are from Europe. I think that if you scratch the surface, many on this blog are talking about things the Europeans have been doing for decades.

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I loved riding the trains in Europe too.

    When there is an economic case – and the government doesn’t over-regulate, there will be wonderful trains.

  12. Anonymous Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden wrote:
    “True, homosexual(s) have faux families they procure.”

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “When there is an economic case – and the government doesn’t over-regulate, there will be wonderful trains.”

    … and re: ” (why) the northeast corridor – down to Norfolk – doesn’t have a more effective, integrated, and efficient mass transportation system.

    The second statement – does it PRESUME that we DO HAVE such a road system in the Northeast Corridor?

    One answer: Why should anyone be suprised if our policy is to treat roads and rails as separate things – not integrated components of an intermodal network?

    We have separate govt-funded entities on their own independent “tracks” pursuing not a better functioning, more cost-effective intermodal network but rather what they – each separate entity – advocates for the mode that is their mission.

    The current system – insures that for instance, that VDOT could never propose a non-road project as the “best solution” .. it would be a fundamental conflict of interest with respect to it’s mission statement.

    Ditto WAMTA or AMTRAK – when would one expect to hear them say.. no.. roads are a better solution in this case?

    Why is our transport policy to treat road, rail and transit as competing rather than appropriate integral components of an intermodal mobility network?

    What if NEITHER VDOT nor WAMTA (or for that matter VRE, AMTRAK or MARC) were separate entities but rather all part of an organization whose mission was to design and maintain an integrated intermodal network?

    I think .. this is what the public would like to see… instead of the current dysfunctional approach.

  14. Bill Garnett Avatar
    Bill Garnett

    Well Mr. Toomanytaxes, seems you, like so many Americans, keep drinking the Kool-Aid. How arrogant we are that we insist that the rest of the world look to us for example and inspiration, but feel we are above learning from anyone else.

    We are the only western country to continue the barbaric practice of capital punishment. We incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any western country. And our incoherent and unenlightened drug war policy is creating far more social problems and crime that it prevents. We are far behind the curve here and our righteous religious right still insists that our basic premise be that substance abuse is a criminal rather than a health problem. And from this policy flows the incentives to organized crime, the inner city crime and violence, the disruption of lives and families by incarceration for minor drug offences, and the revolving door of our penal system — and this is perpetuated by the vested interests that grow around this policy.

    Here are some statistics, but I recommend that you do some of your own research so that you can stop this admittedly widespread misperception in America about Europe – convicted adults admitted to prison – rates per 100,000 people – United States 468.5 – The Netherlands 34.8.

    We are a great country when it comes to QUANTITY of life but we are seemingly insensitive to the real QUALITY of life. And I say this from the perspective of having lived in three countries and having traveled in 22.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “What if NEITHER VDOT nor WAMTA (or for that matter VRE, AMTRAK or MARC) were separate entities but rather all part of an organization whose mission was to design and maintain an integrated intermodal network?”

    Recently our niece from London was visiting us in Blacksburg. She was due to fly out of BWI shortly after the bomb scare in the UK. We wanted to avoid a 600+ mile round-trip drive to BWI simply to put her on a plane for obvious reasons. We also didn’t want her to miss this flight because it was hard to tell when she could get another one.

    So what were our options? Plane from Roanoke to NoVA, where our friends would drive her to BWI? No – no planes from Roanoke to NoVA anymore unless you happen to own one. Train? No. We’d have to drive a significant distance (about half way there) to put her on a train. Bus? Yes, finally a solution.

    But wait: the only bus from Roanoke (none local) that would get her to NoVA left at 5:30 AM. We arrive at 5 AM and discover that she’ll have to thansfer in Charlottesville. Well, she’s 25 and has traveled all over Europe, North Africa, and part of SE Asia so no fears of a transfer in Charlottesville. She boards the bus.

    Mid-morning we get a frantic phone call. The travelers on her bus arrived – on time might I add – in Charlottesville and the connecting bus for reasons nobody knew had left early. They had missed the only connection that would get her to BWI in time for her EVENING flight. What to do?

    Well, the strandees (if there is such a word) – mostly bound for NoVA but at least one of whom was heading to BWI – rented a car in Charlottesville and DROVE there.

    Deena Flinchum

  16. No matter how you raise the needed new revenues, NOVA nad HR will provide most of the money. The only other question is whether you think the rest of the state should get off the hook scott free.

    A toll road does target those that benefit the most, and it also narrows the base so less money is available.

    Most of the rest of the state enjoys mostly congestion free driving, which implies that we have long overinvested in those areas. The rest of the state will contribute little to NOVA and HR problems, even if it happens, but sticking NOVA and HR with all the bill after so many years is unfair at any level.


    I tried to start a shuttle type airline that would have included flights from Roanoke, for exactly the reasons you describe but I couldn’t get enough people interested. In particular, the VA Aviation Agency turned up their nose.

    Larry’s right about an integrated network, and it is the sole reason I support rail to Dulles and not necessarily to Tyson’s.

    As for the Netherlands, could it be that they throw fewer people in jail because they are more tolerant of behavior we would throw people away for? Maybe our GA could lean something there and not be quite so rigid about what is right vs what will actually work.

    Sure, we would all love to have a fast, reasonably priced comfortable train. We would like to have inexpensive, courteous and efficient domestic servants, too. I use the train to travel to Boston and Providence occaionally, and I think it beats driving or flying. But the plain facts are that trains are horrendously expensive to buy and operate, so the question is how much tax are you willing to pay while you are not on the train to support those who are?

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Some are advocating a dedicated and sustainable source of highway funding.

    Here’s a question about sustainability.

    Right now, we’re told that the reason we have to have more funds is that soon – all of the existing funds will have to be used for maintenance.

    My question is this:

    If we spend the “new” money on roads, won’t we reach the same point where the new roads will have to be maintained and once again – we run out of funds?

    Where does this end?

    When we say a sustainable source of funds – why is the word “sustainable” in this context …. NOT?

    it would seem that the more roads we build – the higher taxes will ultimately have to go – to outpace maintenance costs …

    I’m sure I’m not looking at this correctly….

    tell me the flaw in this logic?

  18. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry – I think that you have identified a serious issue that no elected officials are willing to address for either roads or rails. Once we build something, we need to operate and maintain it. If we add 50 lane miles to I-95, there are 50 more miles to be maintained. Similarly, if we build the Silver Line, we need more rail cars, employees and track & station maintenance.

    Who pays? Who benefits?

    Interestingly, secondary road maintenance costs (sersus primary and freeway maintenance costs) do not seem to be overwhelming VDOT’s budget. “According to VDOT data, 44% of VDOT’s maintenance budget for 1996 was spent on secondary roads. In 2005, secondary road maintenance costs had dropped to 42% of VDOT’s total maintenance budget. Even when one considers the more costly payments for local road maintenance made by VDOT, total secondary and local road maintenance costs as a percentage of VDOT’s total maintenance costs dropped from 56% in 1996 to 53% in 2005.”

    Can we afford to move so many people to and from their jobs each day? Must we all live in small apartments and move each time we get new employment? Isn’t it time, Virginia got serious about telecommuting?

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “I tried to start a shuttle type airline that would have included flights from Roanoke, for exactly the reasons you describe but I couldn’t get enough people interested.” Ray Hyde

    Well, Ray, count me among your supporters for all the good it does either of us.

    Deena Flinchum

  20. Deena,

    If it was legal, I’d take subscriptions for tickets, and when I had enough subscriptions, I’d use them to wave in front of the noses of investors. Unfortunately, that isn’t legal.

    Also, unfortunately, to start an airline, you must first start the airline and basically fly it empty for a month while you pass inspection, and you must have enough cash balance to show that you can shut down in an orderly fashion if you fail. This basically means that you need twice as much money up front: call it a high barrier to entry in order to prevent competition.

    And thanks to 911, I’d probably have to have bomb sniffing equipment that costs more than the airplanes I planned to use.

    Get used to driving.

    In other words, it is 100% on you, up front. Consequently, you have no airline service.

    Some people think that the building/development/construction industry should be managed the same way: show us all the money up front. I can pretty well predict what the result will be.

  21. Larry, you throw me. Sometimes you are analytical and incisive, and sometimes I just cant tell where you are coming from.

    Maintenance is an issue that is often overlooked. The current state of our cities is a casein point. Theoretically, they should be more efficient and competitive, but in fact, they are falling apart.

    Even if I had the hundred grnd it would take to fensce the farm, I couldn’t do it without assurance that I would then have the income to maintain it, and that the required income would increase over time.

    In the farm business, that is highly unlikely.

    But, the money we spend on transportation is nearly exactly correlated to the money we spend (and earn) on everything else. It has been that way since 1950. But the money we spend on roads stopped increasing in 1987, relative to everthing else we spend on.

    As you keep saying, it is a matter of priorities.

    I, for one, am perfectly OK with not spending any more on roads, providing we are willing to accept the alternatives and the consequences.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – I did not articulate very well.

    The point I was trying to make with roads and maintenance is that the more roads that get built – the higher the long-term maintenance costs….because each new road… will have it’s own maintenance costs added to all the rest of the roads already being maintained.

    What this means – over time – is that the overall transportation budget will have to increase on the maintenance side which, means, without an increase in revenues (taxes) that it will decrease the funds used for building new roads.

    That is the situation we are in now AND the justification for new taxes because without them the entire budget will be devoted to maintenance-only in 2011.

    What I’m saying is that the same exact thing will happen again at some point – because we will have built enough new roads that then will need maintenance in the future.

    So .. sustainable means a “balanced” system where tax increases are not recurring events.

    In other words, a certain percentage of the budget is for transportation – now, and in the future.

    Otherwise – either taxes must go up again OR money will have to be diverted from other uses to make up the transportation shortfall.

    This is not sustainable over the longer run .. without regularily increasing taxes on a recurring basis.

  23. I think you are right.

    We need regularly increasing taxes on a recurring basis.

    Had we simply placed the gas tax on a per dollar basis instead of a per gallon basis, then we would have done that.

    Even if we had done that, then the gas tax might still have needed additional jiggering to account for greater fuel economy in some groups: like those of us who drive hybrids.

    If I build more farm fence, then I will need mor money to maintain it. Over time those needs will increase, even if I build no more new fences.

    The differnce between me and the state is tha, for me, new fences provide a limited increase in new income, becuase my land area, and the amount I can earn from it is limited.

    The state is no where near build out. In the mean time we can expect that new roads will pay form themselves (someday) depending on when the growth to support them happens.

    I don’t like new or increased taxes, either. But, if we had instituted a policy of placing sales tax on a dollar of gas instead of on a gallon of gas, then those tax increases would have been institutionalized and predictable.

    We would not now be in this impass eover how to raise “new” or aaditional taxes, because the problem would have been solved incrementally.

    In the meantime, we would have had at least some of the money to fix road problems (or pay for alternative/addionalfixes.)

    Instead of quitting smoking, we are now faced with the transportation equivalent of quadruple bypass surgery. The result is going to be wexpensive, painful, and temporary.

    Get used to it, and enjoy breathing and blood flow while you can. Before long it willbe someone els’s problem. If qwe are smart, we will fix our problems with debt, and send the newcomers the bill after we are gone.

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