Query: Who’s the Obstructionist Now?

Here is an interesting juxtaposition of stories.

First comes this from Michael Hardy at the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The General Assembly is very unlikely to grapple again with a statewide transportation fix before the 2008 session of the legislature. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine conceded as much yesterday, arguing that lawmakers rarely act on major issues during the so-called short session when they are largely focused on the coming elections.

“I’m a realist about this,” Kaine explained. “It’s really hard to make something happen in a short session. The ’07 session is not for big heavy lifting.”

Kaine is saving his energy for the 2008 session, when retirements and defeats of key Republican legislors could produce “a new dynamic” in the assembly.

Then there’s this from Tom Holden at the Virginian-Pilot:

House Republican leaders said Tuesday they will resubmit next year many of the same transportation ideas that died during September’s special legislative session. House Speaker Del. William Howell, R-Stafford, … emphasized in a meeting with The Virginian-Pilot’s editorial writers that his party represents more than a no-new-taxes bloc .

The House leadership wants to streamline VDOT, eliminating as many as 700 positions. House leaders, according to Holden, also back “improved coordination between local land use and road planning, greater reliance on private money to finance new construction and greater use of tolls.”

On the one hand, the House is trying to work through some very complex issues; on the other, the Governor is blowing off the House proposals. (Says Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall: “At some point these guys have got to quit beating up on VDOT and pony up some resources to build some roads.”) On the one hand, the House wants to get down to business when the assembly reconvenes in two months; on the other the Governor wants to put off the transportation debate until he can defeat his opponents in next fall’s elections.

Who’s the obstructionist now?

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23 responses to “Query: Who’s the Obstructionist Now?”

  1. So does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? Or is one side honestly trying to avoid the topic somehow?

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    no truth in the middle.

    The Senate/Governor mantra is “show us the money.. and we’ll think about something different from the status quo”

    The House is saying – “the ONLY money for the status quo is what is left over from the surplus”
    ” if you want more than this.. the status quo must change”.

    My view – it’s up to the House to put their ideas on the table … but once they are on the table – then the
    Senate and the Gov have to change their tune… either support what is on the table on put their
    own ideas on the table”

    If both sides do nothing – a POX on both… if the House puts something on the table and the Senate/Gov
    wont’ respond and stick to their more money first and only mantra … a POX on them…

    There is No Way that more money alone – even a huge tax increase is going to “fix” the transportation problem in Virginia … the backlog is too big … NoVa/HR makes no bones – they are bound and determined to suck up as much as they can … and VDOT’s business as usual.. those 3 – could be a POTENT election issue if it comes to that.

    What are the pro-more-money folks going to run on – higher taxes statewide for No Va/HR?

    these guys apparently are signed up for the self-learning hari-kari course.

  3. Larry,

    Fair point. I guess all I’ve heard to this point in time is idealess rhetoric.

    Does anyone have an actual, coherent, thought-out, feasible plan at this point? Or is that too much to ask from the people in Mr. Jefferson’s Capital?

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    folks who frequent this BLOG know my views ad naseum… but basically

    JLARC and the Virginia State Auditor of Public Accounts BOTH .. in detail laid out the problems and suggested remedies for VDOT and transportation policy in Virginia.

    The long and short of it is that the gas tax is not going to continue to be a sustainable source of long-term funding. It won’t suddenly disappear but it will slowly recede as a reliable source of funding.

    States that have their gas taxes indexed to inflation will stave off the inevitable longer – but the end result will be the same.

    For years, Virginia has had no cogent transportation policy that objectively ranks and prioritizes projects according to performance standards such as congestion reduction.

    As a result, funding has been looked at as .. essentially a political slush fund.. for elected officials to use for purposes such as political plums and economic development while ignoring critical needs.

    More money for this? or.. change? Senate approach or House approach? How about.. here’s a really novel concept – taxpayers approach?

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I agree the state has had no real policy for prioritizing projects, and that road funding has been a political plum.

    I don’t agree that “states that have their gas taxes indexed to inflation will stave off the inevitable longer – but the end result will be the same.”

    The gas tax needs to be a part of the reliable funding stream, and it has both a value and a purpose separate and additional to congestion charges or road tolling.

    Maybe we use less gas, someday, but if that is the case then tax the alternative fuels. Maybe we have much more efficient vehicles, someday, but that just means the road taxes need to be adjusted for things other than inflation.

    Maybe we even travel less, someday, and then we can start decomissioning some roads.

    In the meantime, if both sides do nothing, then a Pox on both sides.

    At least Larry has identified part of the problem: the backlog is too big. This is a point that I have argued: it is unrealistic to charge ALL of our current costs to “new” users. The reason the backlog is too big is because of obstructionism, not because we couldn’t have afforded to do the job when it needed to be done.

    Now we are going to pay the price, whether we raise the money or not.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t disagree about the gas tax.

    First, it needs to stay – agree.

    Second, I agree, it needs to be indexed for inflation.

    Third – we need to agree for WHAT purpose and HOW any increases – indexing or gross will be allocated.

    Fourth – we already have an indexed gas tax in Virginia for Regional Transportation Authorities – 2%.

    Fredericksburg and Stafford both have it and use it. Other localities can do the same for their Regional Roads.

    Fifth – localities needs to be paying for their own roads – AND they already have some capabilities to do this – via proffers, CDAs, HOAs .. and traffic impact fees.

    Sixth – that leaves VDOT to be funded at the state level which would be threefold:

    1. – proceeds from indexing gas tax (that exceed maintenance costs)
    2. – GA funding of SPECIFIC projects of statewide significance – NO LOCAL PROJECTS!
    3. – PPTA build, design, operate and maintain – operated with electronic tolls and congestion
    pricing where appropriate – with excess funds going to optimize mainline/adjacent

    Bottom Line – a REAL policy that looks something like what I’ve advocated – not necessarily in specifics but in terms of it being comprehensive and transparent and based of objectives and performance standards.

    What I’ve advocated above is not made of whole cloth and it’s not brilliant insight from my own brain – it’s in fact, based on what JLARC, and the Va APC recommendations.

    What we are seeing to date from the Va Senate is a one-sentence … one trick pony.. “more money – raise taxes .. and let’s use the same corrupt process for deciding priorities and allocating funding.

    Balderdash. When are we going to get some leadership from the folks we elect?

    More money is NEVER the first and NEVER the only solution for most people and businesses but apparently in Virginia what some folks think is that our AAA bond rating.. means.. we are free to remain forever stupid about transportation policies.

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Our Governor wants it both ways. He campaigned on the need for reforms, but wants to maintain the status quo, except with more money. Why does Kaine get a free pass?

  8. Gold_h2o Avatar

    Short session?

    Give me a break….what about everyone’s other favorite past time….a SPECIAL SESSION?

    They have had special sessions during election years in the past. Why can’t they do it again to address transportation?

    Perhaps they learned from their own stupidity….it’s against the law to raise money when the GA is in session…..maybe that is really what keeps them awake at night.

    I guess we will see.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The Senate wants a dedicated and sustainable source of funds separate from the General Fund – a tacit admission that if VDOT were to bring to the GA each year it’s humongous wish list that it could easily end up like the earmark lovefest in Congress where everyone gets to fund their own pet projects.

    Such an approach in Virginia would be quite a disaster. Every last penny of every future “surplus” would be like dead meat in a 15-dog kennel.. as soon as it hit the floor.

    But Here’s the problem with using the gas tax:

    Right now – the revenue from Va’s gas tax essentially is only enough to pay for the annual maintenance costs of the existing road network .. and that does not include 4 important areas that will be impacted in the near future.

    1. – inflation – each year the maintenance costs will go up
    2. – new lane miles – each year about 400 miles of new lanes are added to the maintenance list
    3. – replacement of older cars with more fuel efficient cars
    4. – market forces that result is less gasoline purchased as the price goes up

    We could take care of 1. by indexing the gas tax for inflation.

    but.. where would we get the money for 2. ?

    and if people buy less gasoline thus paying less gas tax because of 3 and 4 -where do we make up that shortfall?

    This is what is meant by the word “sustainable” – a funding mechanism that can adapt to 1, 2, 3, and 4. as time goes by.

    You need something besides the gas tax.. that is a proxy for things like the number of licensed vehicles – that is why some proposals are for taxes on the purchasing of cars or annual insurance premiums or fines for bad driving.

    If you don’t have this – then transportation need has the potential of literally becoming the 600 lb gorilla on the GA Assembly floor – every session – competing for the same funds for education, etc.

    The problem I have with the Senate approach is that it presumes that the only way to deal with the problem is
    more money from taxpayers… no other options… including those labeled as “reforms”.

    The Reason Foundation “thinks the cost of the infrastructure required to “relieve” congestion in NoVa would amount to something like 2 dollars per vehicle per day – something I think laughable but .. on the right track.

    NoVa/HR COULD get 4-5 dollars per day from the folks who actually use the roads – a real user tax that directly targets those that are using the roads – by something fairly simple like electronic tolls – something about a dozen other states are already deep into doing.

    We could pick up quite a bit more by getting tolls from out of state drivers… this way and THAT money could go for new roads for the rural/suburban areas outside of NoVA/HR.

    Let’s say – at the least – why not at least look at the potential… before we go to the last ditch option – new taxes on all Virginians…

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry, I think that the goal of some is to avoid user fees/congestion taxes that could put a damper on the commercial real estate market in NoVA/Fairfax. If Company A’s workers are required to pay the costs that they cause by commuting to and from Company A, Company A might decide it could locate somewhere a lot closer to many of the workers. That doesn’t sit well with those who build and own office buildings in Fairfax County.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I feel like Patton must have felt when he said, “God help me, I love it.”

    Clearly, we don’t need an unlimited slush fund just so VDOT can build an unlimited number of roads. It also seems clear to me that we are stuck in a historical mindset of needing more roads. That was true in Huey Long’s day and Harry Truman’s.

    Today we need a better answer.

    I watch VDOT repairing the T intersection near me month after month after month. No wonder we don’t have enough money for maintenance: we don’t have enough money to fix the problems. It takes very little imagination for me to look at that one intersection and multiply it by the entire state: YIKES.

    Yes, I am in favor of reform. Reform costs a lot of money.

    I think we can raise a lot of money, and do it fairly, with a plan similar to what Larry has outlined. What I don’t see is an answer that can meet the issues raised by TMT.

    We can blame workers for making bad location decisions, and come up with a plan to screw them into making what we think are better ones. Why can’t we do the same for Company A, or the people who build and own its offices?

    The way I see it Fairfax, Company A, and A’s landlords are exporting their affordable housing problem to Spotsylvania, and exporting their transportation problem to the state and the Feds.

    Any plan to expand Metro, or build new toll lanes is simply playing into their hands and perpetuating the problems we have. We have a giant mixed use mismatch with jobs in Fairfax and homes everyplace else.

    If we really want more mixed use, we are going to have to take some of the commercial activity out of Fairfax and use it to help build and support more places.

  12. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Note the article in the Post today about environmental groups filing suit against the State of Maryland, challenging the construction of the Inter-County Connecter road on air quality issues. They argue air quality in Metro Washington is bad and would be harmed further by construction of the road.

    Doesn’t this indicate that any major new road in NoVA would also likely be challenged? Admitedly, filing and winning lawsuits are two different things. But the idea that Virginia can raise taxes and pave away in NoVA is foolish.

  13. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    “The House leadership wants to streamline VDOT, eliminating as many as 700 positions.”
    Are these closures the 700 positions?
    “The Virginia Department of Transportation may announce the closing of its Chimney Rock regional maintenance headquarters among several other rural offices across the Commonwealth.”

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: ICC .. lawsuit

    Wamsley probably knows more about this than I but when the ICC was first proposed – it had to pass muster in terms of air quality via the EPA computer model than the MWCOG/TPB must use when contemplating new roads that will generate additional pollution.

    There was an internal “dust-up” when the road was proposed for inclusion in the areas TIP/CLRP. I don’t know the specifics but the vote was not unanimous to included it in the TIP/CLRP.

    But right off the top of one’s head – you can see that even if it passed muster – why was it the favored new roads verses other possibilities within the MPO region especially since it was late on the scene and apparently jumped the line in front of other projects.

    The lawsuit… depends on whether the law and process was followed properly .. or circumvented because..as the lawsuit states – this area is ALREADY violating some air quality thresholds.

    I think the lawsuit is also strategic… with the likelihood of a new Gov coming in… perhaps…

    The trouble with lawsuits in this area is that ultimately – they have to go through the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which tend to take “hands off” approaches to issues like this one.. They’ll let the decision stand and force those who filed the lawsuit to go to the US Supreme Court.. very expensive.. and a high bar because they can and do turn down many reviews.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: reform being expensive

    For the record – I’m opposed to reform that results in higher costs.

    The reform I am interested in – is the kind that results in more cost-effective operations and solutions.

    This – by the way – is exactly what JLARC and APC were advocating. They were making the point over and over that there is huge waste and inefficiencies in the way that we currently do transportation policy….

    one very small example: Our road classification system of Primary and Secondary are based on an arbitrary and unique system that is more than 70 years old .. and quite different from most DOTs who use functional classification systems.

    What this does – it results in roads with 1/10 the VPD getting funded for upgrades while roads with 10 times the VPD do not receive funding for a decade or more. In other words – we’re adding capacity where it is not needed and diverting scarce funds from where it is needed. The net result of this is that VDOT comes back with a huge list of similar projects that lack funding… they want MORE money… REFORM means making them use the money they have in more cost-effective ways so that they won’t need more money… or at least not as much.

    Reform .. like this – SAVES Money.. it doesn’t cost more…

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, that’s a very interesting comment you made about the funding disparities between roads with different classifications. That’s a point that I missed when I wrote recently about reforming the state’s secondary road system. Reclassifying state roads also happens to be a key proposal in the House GOP Caucus’ proposed transportation reforms. I’m thinking that the issue may warrant some follow-up. Where do you get your info — the JLARC study?

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I don’t understand the road classifications, or what it has to do with funding. I do know that when I was dealing with VDOT and the county trying to get a new entrance, that I was told that the two lane state road out front was classified as a freeway. Apparently that means that it has a higher standard for entrances and fewer are allowed. The meaning of the classification was never explained to me, it was just presented in pure bureaucratic fashion. But if my understanding is correct, then calling this little road a freeway is obviosly a misclassification. I suspect it was classified that way just to make development harder.

    I guess I don’t see the the nexus between VMT and funding, necessarily. It seems to me that the change in VMT might be more important. If a country lane used to cary ten trips a day, and now it is two hundred, then it might need improvement more than a road that carried 50,000 trips and now carries 52,000 trips.

    Also, you might be able to make a lot more of the smaller improvements for the same money as one huge one.

    I’m not saying this is desirable, just that the economic facts might not be readily apparent.

    Any reform you make is going to involve changes in organization and organizational behavior, and that always costs money. Laying off 700 people will involve termination costs and morale costs, and at least some of the work they did is going to be done some other way.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: ICC

    the question at hand is how did the ICC jump to the head of the project list over top of dozens of other projects and THEN also pass muster with the EPA Air Quality Model when WashMetro already exceeds some of the thresholds?

    stay tuned…. the fun begins .. when the “discovery” process starts turning up documents that could not be obtained with FOIA requests.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    yep .. I saw the closures also….

    it would be truly ironic that as a cost-saving measure .. the maintenance shops will be shuttered.

    That of course would preserve the remaining 8000 VDOT positions for .. ahem… “planning” engineers.

    You know.. the high dollar guys who are “planning” I-73 .. “just in case” a trainload of money falls on them from the sky so they can construct it.



  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Where do you get your info — the JLARC study?”

    Yes.. and the APA website.

    You have to plow through the pages…. but if you’re patient.. there
    are some really important insights…

    I’m quite sure most folks don’t have enough patience including GA guys.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I don’t understand the road classifications, or what it has to do with funding.”

    I know I’m a broken record on this.

    Read the JLARC study.

    Here’s the powerpoint version:

    http://jlarc.state.va.us/Meetings/November01/fundingppt.pdf – Page 25

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: Secondary and Primary road designations.

    Primary roads are the ones that are not 600 or 700 or 1000 series roads.

    They are Route 1, 3, 17, 29, .. you get the idea.

    They have separate pots of money.

    Eons ago… VDOT intended the Primary roads to be the “Primary” roads.

    But in areas like NoVa.. 600 series roads have become major arterials.

    These are arbitrary designations – not function designations where VPD is a proxy for need.

    Because there are so many more 600 series roads than primary roads, the competition for funding is intense.

    So.. you’ll end up with a Primary road… like one in Spotsylvania that got allocated 20 million dollars for
    a 2 mile segment while there were more than a half-dozen 600 series roads that needed improvements but could
    not be funded. Those 600 series roads have 10 times the VPD as the road that got funded.

    Even if Spotsy had wanted to reallocate the funding.. they could not have. Their choice basically was to take the money to upgrade the lower VPD road .. or to let VDOT allocate that money to another county.

    This circumstance… drove the county to a Bond Referenda for upgrading those roads when it became apparent
    that VDOT funding for them was non-existent now or in the forseeable future.

    This situation is going on state-wide in urbanizing areas.

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Good explanation. Thank You.

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