The New Political Calculus on Transportation

An important shift in Virginia’s transportation debate has occurred, but it has yet to be fully acknowledged by the Mainstream Media. The push for a statewide, broad-based tax increase to fund transportation has evaporated. The pro-taxes forces have beat a tactical retreat. They’re now working on (a) modest new revenue sources, such as higher auto insurance premiums or traffic abuser fees, or (b) regional taxes to fund regional projects.

Meanwhile, momentum is building to restructure the way the Virginia Department of Transportation does business. At the very least, expect moves to privatize maintenance, more public-private partnerships and new priorities for ranking road-building projects. Finally, there is a lot of rhetoric about aligning transportation and land use planning, although it’s not clear what concrete proposals might emerge.

This is a far cry from the call for $1 billion in statewide tax increases that launched the 2006 session of the General Assembly.

One key figure to watch in the upcoming special session, of course, is Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. We detailed his revised transportation agenda recently on this blog. (See “Kaine on the Transportation Session.”)

Other public figures are re-thinking the political calculus as well. In today’s edition of Bacon’s Rebellion (see “The Dog that Didn’t Bark“), I describe how former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet, once a vocal supporter of tax increases, has changed his tune. After spending a year in the private sector as president of a Virginia Beach home-building company, he interacts more with people who just can’t handle another tax increase, no matter how bad the roads. Also, his work on “workforce” housing, has sharpened his awareness of the impact of land use patterns on transportation.

Both Kaine and Shucet have concluded that there’s no point in pressing for tax increases that the House of Delegates is unwilling to approve. Instead, they say, look for areas of common ground. Work on these until the political equation changes and then make another run at developing a stable, long-term source of revenue.

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6 responses to “The New Political Calculus on Transportation”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m flabbergasted! Up until this point – Schucet was a broken record – “money is the only solution”.

    NOW… he’s apparently had a eureka moment:

    “More money isn’t the only thing that Virginia’s transportation system needs, Shucet argues. Lawmakers need to re-think they way they prioritize the spending of transportation dollars, and VDOT needs to get more creative about making operational efficiencies to the transportation system. Instead of fighting to a standstill over taxes, why not find common ground with the House on other reforms that need to be made?”

    This man understands the “poltics of what is possible” as well as the importance of government agencies bringing their projects in on time and on budget.

    Makes me wonder why he chose to bail…. when he clearly has the credibility and mental horsepower to move us past business-as-usual.

    If the new transportation guy from Idaho is not careful… he’s going to be constantly looking over his shoulder to see what Schucet has to say… 🙂

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    I am not aware of any advocate for transportation funding who has not also been just as open to ideas for reform. There might be a few rabid developers out there who just want to raise taxes and do nothing differently, but they are a small minority. This is not a new position for Shucet — he spent years putting it into practice for Gov. Warner. It is important to note, to jump posts, that the law the Pilot praised in that editorial Bacon cites passed unanimously.

    The biggest blow to this whole effort came when Shucet announced he was leaving VDOT. If he were still there, it would have made a difference. I have high hopes for the new commissioner, but it will take substantial time for him to establish a rep.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Until this recent quote from Schucet.. all that I had read was that he advocated more money.. in most of his public speaking…

    or let’s put this another way.. did Schucet ever articulate what HIS specific reforms he thought were needed beyond more money?

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Lary, Shucet wrote a letter to the General Assembly last summer outlining a number of good ideas for transportation reforms, most of which did not require more money. I’ve searched the old “Road to Ruin” website but can’t find the posts I ran on his ideas. You might have better luck.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I guess I was curious as to how much of Shucets…. recommendations.. are not part of the discussions going on for the Special Session.

    I don’t see his name nor recommendations attributed to him… in the reporting… so it’s hard to tell WHERE the current ideas under consideration ARE coming from…

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, I have heard very little about any of Shucet’s recommendations being translated into legislation. The only thing I can think off off-hand is his suggestion that more attention be given to “corridor management.” The Kaine administration has been working on that at an executive level, with no need for legislation.

    The Axis of Taxes loved Philip while he was supporting higher taxes — but seemed remarkable uninterested in his other ideas for improving congestion. From what he tells me, the feedback to my column has been highly negative.

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