Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported and summarized, the Northam administration has introduced a comprehensive bill covering a wide range of transportation issues. The proposal is being carried in the House by S[eaker Eileen Fuller-Corn (HB 1414) and in the Senate by Sen. Saslaw of Fairfax (SB 890).

This bill (the introduced House and Senate bills are identical) covers subjects ranging from the use of cellphones while driving to a major reconfiguration of how transportation revenue is disbursed to a decrease in vehicle-registration fees to an increase in gas taxes.  The scope of the topics covered in the bill’s 86 pages is mind-boggling.

It would seem that the bill would be in clear violation of the “one-object” rule of the Virginia Constitution:  “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  To be fair, the bill does express in its title one object: transportation. That is comparable to saying that a bill expanding Medicaid and reforming foster care would have one object: social services. Nevertheless, the bill is safe from challenge on this score. In the House, the Speaker rules on whether a bill violates the “one object” rule, and I have no doubt she would rule in favor of her bill.

Omnibus bills such as these sometimes serve a legitimate function. Some policy issues have various components that are closely related or linked. A change in one component can have ramifications, intended or unintended, on other components. By bundling all the components in one bill, it is easier to coordinate all the changes among the affected components.

Omnibus bills can have other, less legitimate, purposes, or, at least, effects. (I am not saying whether these effects were part of the motivation of the administration in deciding how to draft the bill.) First, lots of smaller, secondary issues can be hidden in these big bills. Technically, they are not hidden because they are set out, either as stricken language or in italics. But, when there are so many issues or topics addressed , it can be easy to overlook some.

A second effect, or advantage, depending on your perspective, is that it is harder to target a specific issue for opposition when dealing with big bills. If the bill were broken into several stand-alone bills, opponents of some issues could focus on those bills without having to deal with some of the other issues, which they may support. It is true that amendments could be proposed to delete certain portions of the omnibus bill, but it is somewhat cumbersome to draw such amendments; it is always easier to focus on a bill as a whole. Also, amendments may have the unintended consequence of negatively affecting other sections of the omnibus bill. Finally, people who have some concerns with the major components may concentrate their efforts on those parts and not have or take time for the other parts or feel they should not risk political capital on those other, minor aspects.

In summary, the secondary components of an omnibus bill ride along under the cover and protection of the major components. They also enjoy, if only indirectly, any general support for the bulk of the bill.

HB 1414 is not so tightly connected that it could not have been easily broken into several stand-alone bills. After I finish dissecting it, I will report on the major pieces, except I will leave the fuel tax provisions to Steve Haner because he is much more knowledgeable in that area than I am. However, I won’t be reporting on all the provisions because the readers of this blog would probably quickly get bored with it. Perhaps that was the administration’s intention.

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17 responses to “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

  1. I cannot think of an administration that has tried to do more in one session. That transportation package would be a crusher for most all by itself, and I’m not sure they’ve gotten it ready for prime time. In the middle of this overall session? With the House struggling to get the basics down? Brother. This is one big honking important and ambitious bill that puts Virginia squarely in the railroad business, at least passenger rail. Do we want our own Amtrak?

  2. To the degree that having our own Amtrak can serve to transfer money from the taxpayers to the politically connected, you can be sure that the Imperial Clown Show is all in favor.

    • You’ve got that right. How many hundreds of millions were spent on a road that never got off the planing charts (Rt 460)? The ongoing criminal enterprise e call a state legislature will dump hundreds pf millions before they “discover” nobody wants to go to Richmond. Over the past 100 years the City of Richmond has grown at 1/4 the rate of the United States overall. Meanwhile, city after city in the south has blossomed – growing much faster than the United States overall. A train to Richmond? Why?

  3. Northam is trying to get more/better rail between Richmond and Washington. I think worse things could happen.

    A billion dollars worth of improvements are being done to I-95 between Fredericksburg and Washington and it’s not expected to come anywhere close to “fixing” I-95 – more like keeping it from gridlock at rush hour at the bottlenecks .

    We have to start using rail. There is no alternative. Northam is the first to recognize that and propose more rail along I-95 and to Tidewater.

    At the same time, as expected, there are bills to undo SmartScale… and go back to backroom politics…

    • Rail? Fine? To Richmond? No way. People are not commuting from Richmond to NoVa to work. And nobody is commuting from NoVa to Richmond to work. It’s 60 miles from Fredericksburg to Richmond. If the Richmond region wants to connect itself to the rail in NoVa let that region fund the costs of getting rail to Fredericksburg.

  4. There’s a nice little backway that’s used instead of I95 that consists of a bunch of rural 2 lane roads that run through PW, Fauquier, and Stafford counties.

    It’s gotten to the point that Valley View Drive and Fleetwood Drive in PWC really ought to just be renamed the “Stafford County Parkway”.

    But I do want to ask you…do you think the sort of person who used the money that they saved buying a house in Stafford county instead of PWC to buy a dually diesel pickup truck will actually get on a train?

  5. And, since something like 25% of the working population of Stafford County works for the FedGov, maybe they could telework instead of clogging up back roads in PWC?

  6. re: ” do you think the sort of person who used the money that they saved buying a house in Stafford county instead of PWC to buy a dually diesel pickup truck will actually get on a train?”

    Well, to be clear, there are quite a few already that do that and I do suspect some of them in their “other life” have dually diesel pickups.

    In fact, I’ve run into a number who have dedicated “beater” cars for the commute! I’ve run into others that paying tolls daily for the express lanes is typical and normal.

    But I think the main point is that building more highway capacity in that corridor from Fredericksburg north is both physically and fiscally a challenge and VDOT has committed to dynamic tolling on metro regions like Washington and Hampton and I don’t think they’re going back for along time, if every. Dynamic tolling allows infrastructure to be upgraded now and paid back over time (sort of a bastardized “pay-as-you-go!” AND as important, perhaps more, Tolling has become a tool to shape congestion on heavily used roads especially those that convey workers from exurbia.

    The thing about all of this is that most folks who commute don’t give a rats behind how commuting has damaged that corridor for other uses – like moving goods or conveying people from out of region around the DC-Va-Md MSA. It’s all about their desire to live in the exurbs and commute solor to/from their NoVa job.

    The State and VDOT do not have that luxury. They have to do SOMETHING and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the option of adding capacity is simple not affordable nor effective. That corridor is not the only transportation need for the state and it cannot eat up every last dollar in transportation revenues in a futile attempt to accommodate the wants of those who CHOSE to move to the exurbs AND CHOOSE to drive solo every day.

    I hear a LOT of “I had no choice” which is grade A blather. Choices WERE made. 2,000,000 million living in NoVa chose NOT to commute to exurbia. It’s a choice, a folks are going to own it even if they think it is ‘unfair’.

  7. Even though Bob ” biggest tax hike in Virginia history” McDonnell tried in vain to use the tax increase to fund more infrastructure, it was not until the Dems came along with Terry McAuliffe as Gov signed a bill – HB365 prioritization process; project selection (Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) that fundamental change took place.

    NOW, proposed roads must be evaluated on data and metrics and one of them is how many PEOPLE, not cars, a project moves.

    It was also under Terry McAuliffe that an actual plan to improve I-81 was accomplished as well as supplemental taxes in NoVa and Hampton for Regional Transportation purposes.

    None of this would have happened under a “no-tax-increase” mindset that most of the GOP insists on. And a further irony, many GOP continue to blather inanely that since we spend all this money on stuff -like education and poverty than it has “failed” because we still have it. The same is true of transportation and congestion. We have spent billions upon billions of dollars on transportation, and yet we STILL have congestion, accidents, etc so it too must be a FAILURE, right?

    The no-taxers have one goal – other goals are not allowed. The question of whether opportunities are lost if underfunded, is not in their vocabulary.

    • Larry,

      You are hallucinating again. If you are going to pick wild mushrooms to eat you really have to be knowledgeable and selective.

      The question of whether opportunities are lost if underfunded …

      That’s not a question. No, the real question is whether the continuing criminal enterprise known as the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond could possibly seize any opportunity or solve any problem even if they had a lot more money. I’m reading a book called The Virginia Way by Jeff Thomas right now. Man does he hit the nail on the head. Our own Peter G wrote one of the recommendations at the front of the book. Sure, the plantation elite sloshing through the money colored slime in Richmond want mo’ money. Sure Gov Coonman the Con Man is dreaming up new and hidden ways to separate Virginians from their earnings. But they’re not doing any of this because they think the state government can really seize opportunities or solve problems. They are doing this because their corporate, union and environmentalist paymasters have told them to do so. More money sloshing through the system represents more money for the plantation elite to steal.

  8. It’s ironic, isn’t it? “No tax increase” from people in a state so dependent upon Federal spending.

    Seems to me the best way to end congestion on I95 would be for the FedGov to downsize and move elsewhere.

    Yes, it would be traumatic for Virginia, but in the long run it might benefit this state to develop an economy that does not primarily consist of suckling on the Federal teat.

    “Don’t tread on me”….but “don’t cut my Federal paycheck either!!!”

    • Yes but people in Virginia are dependent on the Federal government because they work for the Federal government not because they get more than their share of “free stuff” from the Federal government. The Democrats in Virginia have a “you pay and we spray” mentality to provide “free stuff” not state government jobs. To me there’s a difference between working for a government paycheck and getting “free stuff”.

      As for the Feds diversifying out of DC (to a greater extent than now is the case) – I think that would be a great idea. Move 2 – 3% of Federal workers out of DC per year. After 10 years that’s real progress. Less congestion, more affordable housing, closed schools and smaller government and, best of all, less money for the plantation elite to hijack from NoVa to pay for things like a 4 lane beltway around Richmond. A little austerity would be good for the Clown Show.

      • If one is actually “working” for a government paycheck, sure. Deal with some Federal or state contracts and you’ll soon find out how much work is getting done and who does it.

        People in Virginia are dependent on the Federal government because a significant chunk of employment in Virginia, even private sector employment, depends on Federal spending. Much more so than most other states, in fact.

        It’s just a continuation of the proud Virginia tradition of exploiting the fruits of other’s labor, either by slavery or by taxation.

  9. Incidentally, I have a beater car as well. I didn’t buy it just for commuting, though, but because this state has some of the rudest, most incompetent drivers to be found anywhere. They’ll run you off the road if they think they can get away with it, and that’s much more likely if you’re driving a vehicle that doesn’t look like it’s been to hell and back.

    At least some of the traffic congestion around here is simply due to the terrible drivers we have. The sort of driver that can’t figure out how to merge onto I95 without slowing the entire right lane to a 20MPH crawl.

    It’s not a recent problem, either—the Virginia driver has been terrible for at least 30 years.

    • Have you ever been to Maryland?

      • I have been to Maryland. While at one time I would have said that Maryland drivers are worse than Virginia drivers, I don’t see that to be the case anymore.

        I was out of town the other day. I was driving in the right lane of I84 in far northern Pennsylvania. All the other lanes were clear and there was very light traffic. A pickup truck gets right on my bumper and proceeds to tailgate me for about a minute before passing me on the left. Nobody was in the left lane.

        The pickup had Virginia tags. That explains it all—the inability to see that one is gaining on the vehicle ahead of them until they are 10 feet from their bumper and the approximately 60 seconds of riding that bumper before figuring out what the empty left lane could be used for.

  10. There is a backlog of long-argued, mainstream, but minority transportation-related legislation, long bottled up by partisan dismissal, that has needed attention for some time. But there also seems to be a Christmas-tree mentality at work here, seizing the opportunity just because it’s there to ram a basket of assorted fringe views through. What do you think is the dominant motive here?

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