House Land Use Bills Delayed

The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee decided to defer action on land use legislation championed by House Speaker William J. Howell and other Republicans in favor of studying the proposals. “You’re talking about drastic changes,” said Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, the committee chairman.

According to Chelyen Davis with the Free Lance-Star, Ingram said he’d appoint an ad hoc committee to study the issues, and have the bill patrons reintroduce their legislation for the 2007 session that starts in January.

One of the bills would establish “urban transportation districts” that would allow localities to take over responsibility and funding for maintaining secondary roads. The other would require counties to set up “urban development areas” where they would channel growth.

In one of the main issues that surfaced, according to Davis, Democrats contended that “the state doesn’t provide enough money to maintain the roads anyway, and that localities would find they were saddled with all the responsibility and not enough funding.” Said Del. Kris Amundson, D-Fairfax: “It’s clearly insufficient. What you’re doing is passing on more responsibility than money.”

If the bill would simply fob off responsibility for road maintenance to local government without providing the resources to do the job, then it’s a bad bill. But I’m not certain that the Democratic objections are based in fact. For starters, it’s incorrect to say that “the state doesn’t provide enough money to maintain the roads anyway.” Au contraire, the state prioritizes maintenance spending. Maintenance spending gets first dibs on transportation dollars. That’s why, with escalating maintenance expenses, money for new construction is running out.

A more interesting objection was this: that delegating authority to local governments would lead to a patchwork of maintenance standards across the state. But no one has had a problem with allowing cities and two counties (Henrico and Arlington) to maintain their own roads since… since forever. If the standards are “patchwork,” no one has expressed a problem about them before.

My sense is that Democrats are determined to shoot down the bills because they distract from their larger goal of increasing transportation taxes. According to Jeff Schapiro and Mike Hardy at the Times-Dispatch, Del. Frank Hall, D-Richmond characterized the legislation as “an attempt to divert attention from the House Republican Caucus’ continuing failure to back sustained sources of transportation revenue.” Added Schapiro/Hardy: “Some allege that House Republicans are trying to get political cover by acting on a batch of changes without providing major new financing.”
As an aside, it appears that Schapiro and Hardy have bought into the Democratic narrative. They led their story this way: “Facing mounting pressure to fix state transportation woes, House Republicans recycled proposals yesterday to generate savings by overhauling the highway department and shifting responsibility for construction to localities” (my italics). As I argued yesterday in “The House Tackles Land Use,” the bills are aimed at reducing root causes of transportation dysfunction. Whether they do or not is open to discussion. But to dismiss them as “recycled proposals” is simply taking sides in a partisan debate.
If you’re looking for objective reporting on the transportation issue, you’re better off reading Chelyen Davis and the Free Lance-Star.

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10 responses to “House Land Use Bills Delayed”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Delegate Amundson seems clueless on this one. If one looks at VDOT’s data, rather than simply talking first, one can readily see that VDOT provides higher reimbursement per lane mile for localities maintaining their own roads than VDOT spends per lane mile on the secondary roads it maintains.

    Those data raise issues that should be addressed. But Amundson’s resort to superficial liberal “we need more money” arguments simply fails. Perhaps, if the Delegate would dig a bit deeper, she could help bring solutions to the table.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Toomanytaxes –

    “one can readily see that VDOT provides higher reimbursement per lane mile for localities maintaining their own roads than VDOT spends per lane mile on the secondary roads it maintains.”

    That’s true…..for now.

    The rub (at least for me) is that those numbers will change once EVERY locality tries to get funding from the state. What will happen then? What’s the funding formula for figuring out who get’s how much?

    I don’t disagree with the concept of turning secondary road maintenance over to localities. But if they will forever be at the mercy of Big Brother, in this case state govn’t, then I don’t see the point of allowing them to do it in the first place… could turn into the donkey chasing the carrot scenario for localities in terms of getting money from the state.

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    2:33 You have certainly identified a valid issue that should be discussed in the General Assembly. My criticism of Delegate Amundson is that, instead of discussing legitimate issues such as you have raised, she turns to hollow rhetoric – passing on responsibility without money. As you noted, just the opposite seems to be true today.

    Let’s hope the General Assembly talks about the real issues.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    it can go both ways.

    If a locality depends on VDOT to maintain it’s roads – VDOT is the one who decides priorities.

    Ever hear about a left turn lane that needs extending or a bad intersection that needs attention.. on a chronic congestion chokepoint where it seem a simple change could help .. . and VDOT essentially takes it under advisement for the next few months.

    Remember also.. that VDOT can be cut and when they are.. sometimes it’s the guy who might be supposed to be looking after your jurisdiction…roads and turned over to someone else…at the state level.

    so yes the state can pull the funding back.. but giving that funding to VDOT to redistribute does not guarantee that the money will be spent the way the locality would like it prioritized either.

    Has anyone ever wondered why VDOT chooses to spend it’s time mowing.. when an intersection needs attention?

    think about how that happens… and if the same thing would happen if the locality had someone in their employee making those decisions.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Very nice narative and analysis for the topic.

    The localities have ONE issue and that is whether they gain or lose money… and/or whether they end up with the equivalent of unfunded mandates.

    All this talk about land-use, urban districts, etc is “interesting” and does offer propspective opportunities as long it’s not smoke/mirrors for grabbing money.

    The “patchwork” argument is bogus.

    VDOT has standards – is the idea that VDOT must monitor locality projects to ensure compliance?

    Okay.. we have the deal with schools. The state sets standards, ensures compliance AND funds SOQ – Standards of Quality.

    I’m pointing out that the Schools already follow a devolved model and it seems to work.. right on down to state-imposed SOLs so I see no reason why a similiar model won’t work with VDOT and roads. It works that way in other states.

    The REgional road network is another question… a harder nut.. I think

    We DO have regional models – like water/sewer and libaries …. however.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “The state sets standards, ensures compliance AND funds SOQ – Standards of Quality.”

    Depends on who you ask….weren’t these UNDERFUNDED until just recently….in other words, didn’t state set the requirements and then didn’t supply the money to meet them?

    Also, we all know the public school mantra…..more! more! more! We don’t need another step-child screaming for more when it comes to state funding.

    Again, it all goes back to forcing localities to fight the roads vs. schools battle as opposed to the state.

    One thing I take issue with….always have always will…is the way The Commonwealth collects revenues from localities and the re-distributes them. It’s always unfair because the “formulas” are screwed up. Many localities never get back what they put in and some get back more than they put in.

    IMO, they shouldn’t collect the money in the first place….let the localities collect it and distribute it locally.

    The Commonwealth shouldn’t play banker to the localities….at least as much as they do now anyway

  7. I agree. Pay your taxes locally, and then if the state needs money let them go after the BOS, not me.

    I got hit with the road non-maintenance tax this week. Wife got squeezed to the side of a narrow secondary (maybe tertiary) road by a farm truck and stock trailer. Hit a pothole on the crumbling edge of the road and wiped out a $350 alloy wheel and a $190 tire.

    That road, along with many around here is a) too narrow and b) has no shoulder. Both of these contribute the the edges failing fater than they should. When driving in Maryland I notice that even the rural areas have decent shoulders. Here, there are places that, if you put a wheel off the road are veritable tank traps, not to mention death traps. She got off lucky.

    Isn’t local school funding related to how fast the schools are growing? Won’t the same thing happen to the road funding?

    It seems to me we’ve got plenty of roads: we just use them too much in some places and not enough in others.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    First, one of the bills would mandate urban development areas in all counties, like Frederick County is doing already [According to Del. Athey]. That is fine, but does Arlington County need one? No. Do counties that have no towns or central utility systems need one? Doubtful. Do the ten counties that have no zoning need them? Doubtful. One cannot have a radical change in state land use and transportation policy in three days.

    Second, in the urban development area bill is the requirement that counties take over the road maintenance. In committee, Del. Athey said that the requirement was a “mistake” and “a typo” and “go ahead and take it out.”

    With respect to the funding of the SOQ, even the General Assembly’s own JLARC said that they were underfunded. What you have is a situation where the General Assembly declares that the SOQ is fully funded which makes it so? The same thing will happen with local road funding.

    Third, despite what you and others may say, bonds are paid off with taxes. You may call them fees or fines, but it will still require taxes.

    Finally, all this “new” money that is suppose to go to roads local governemnts already get – recordation taxes, portion of insurance premiums, etc. All they are doing is slicing up the pie into smaller pieces.

    PS – You forgot to mention that the RTD reported that in the transportation plan headed for passage in the House, the Richmond area gets a “pittance.”

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    The real solution that most people in NoVA (& probably elsewhere) would favor would be for the General Assembly to authorize local governments to enact adequate public facilities ordiances, as most areas of the country have. It’s coming and the longer we wait, the more draconian the law will be.

  10. TMT: Ordinarily I agree with you. But i’m afraid that APF regulations will amount to another way to keep people out. Just as zoning is currently used to beggar thy neighbor.

    Unless zoning has some means of dealing with changes that occurover time, and unless that time is within the allotted span of a persons life, then zoning is omnipotent and no longer serving the people it is supposed to. Likewise, any plan to codify land use permanently is a) bound to fail, eventually, and b) anti democratic in that it proposes to take land use permanently out of the domain of public control.

    If you are going to do that, then beter to leavi it in th hands of individuals than an unaccountable, non-government entity.

    APF rules are OK, provided that they include some means of insuring the the public facilities are actually provided, someday.

    Otherwise, they ar equivalent to a shut down order, which benefits no ne, not even current residents and businesses.

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