Republican Senator’s Blame Game on Transportation

I am posting this passage for Jim Bowden who encountered technical difficulties and could not add ithimself. — Jim Bacon

My state senator, Marty Williams (R), has another op ed in the Daily Press ( “Ball is in House’s court now,” May 2, 2006). Apparently, according to Marty, the ball is a ‘regional plan’ for Hampton Roads passed by the Senate last week.

Marty concludes with his conditions for a Transportation Plan:

“Provide meaningful support for transportation needs for the foreseeable future.

Do not raid the general fund ensuring that roads do not compete with schools, public safety or health care.

Do not pay for road construction by saddling other parts of the budget with additional debt that will have to be paid back later with interest.

We’ve heard enough criticism from House Republicans. What Virginians deserve from them now are constructive contributions. That means taking action on the Hampton Roads regional plan now.”

I agree. The House should reject the regional plan if includes another unelected government with taxing authority. Marty pushed this before and the voters in his own district have decisively beaten it – twice – at the polls.

Marty never gives us a number on how much money is needed each year for meaningful support. We need a number, not an adjective.

Marty was happy to raid the Transportation Trust Fund to move money to the General Fund. Either he has a principled reason to raid funds one way only – from Transportation – or he is just being a politician.

Marty was thrilled to support saddling Virginians with huge debts a few years ago. Again, has he has discovered, recently, a principle that forever more he will fight bond issues, or he is just being a politician?

Marty never tells us how much the professional staff will cost for this unelected regional government. How many persons will be hired for what jobs? How much will they be paid?

Marty never explains why VDOT can’t manage the tolls across the James River – and maybe on I-64.

Marty has failed to offer a plan to fund the first priority for Hampton Roads since he was elected in 1995. Eleven years without any leadership, except to demand a new, unelected government with taxing authority and no oversight, means the ball really is in the House. Clearly, the Virginia Senate, especially the ruling majority of Republican senators, isn’t up to setting priorities, making decisions and providing leadership.

What is the url for this Senate plan for unelected regional government for Hampton Roads?


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8 responses to “Republican Senator’s Blame Game on Transportation”

  1. Scott Leake Avatar
    Scott Leake

    o”another unelected government with taxing authority” – wrong

    The new authority could not impose taxes. That would take an affirmative vote by 8 of the 11 elected city councils and boards of supervisors.

    “Marty never gives us a number on how much money is needed each year for meaningful support.” – wrong

    The 1% sales tax on non-food items would yield $180 million in ’08, growing to $215 million in ’12. The regional plan is layered on top the statewide plan which produces $601 million (again, statewide) in ’07, growing to $747 million in ’10. Hampton Roads senators have repeatedly cited roughly $350 million as the yearly requirement.

    “Marty was happy to raid the Transportation Trust Fund to move money to the General Fund” – wrong

    No one was “happy.” But more importantly, the raid on the TTF took place under Wilder. Marty was on City Council. James, if you know of any other raid, let us know.

    “Marty was thrilled to support saddling Virginians with huge debts a few years ago.” – wrong

    “Thrilled?” Oh well. The only bonded debt I am aware of was the issues that were on the statewide ballot for voter approval, not Marty’s approval.

    “Marty never tells us how much the professional staff will cost for this unelected regional government.” – Wrong

    From the text of the bill: “The staff of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and the Virginia Department of Transportation shall work cooperatively to assist the proper formation and effective organization of the Authority.”

    “Marty never explains why VDOT can’t manage the tolls ” – simple

    VDOT doesn’t have the authority. So, James, are you proposing VDOT impose tolls administratively?

    To cite the inscription at the base of the statue in the opening scene of “Animal House”…”Knowledge Is Good.” Now you know and that is good.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Thanks Scott. Where is the url so we can see the bill the Senate proposes?

    A regional government is unelected if its members aren’t elected by for the office of high potentate of transporation for Hampton Roads by the people with their name and job on the ballot. Having the cities and counties vote on any new tax increase is a new twist. Again, I’d like to see the bill.

    Thanks for the $350 million annual bogey. I’ve never seen that number. What projects does that money pay for? All of 6 of them or so from the Transportation Tax Scam of 02?

    Didn’t the GA move money from the Transportation Trust fund in the Budget before the Transporatation Tax Scam of 02?

    Marty supported the bond issue. Now he is against the bonds. First you flip, then you flop.

    So, how much will the unelected Regional Government cost? You came up with the annual HR cost for pouring concrete, which I appreciate, so what is the other number?

    Who runs the tolls on the Coleman bridge over the York? I could care less if VDOT runs them, as long as they run them well and are accountable to the Governor and GA.

    Thanks for the info you provided. You have excellent taste in ‘classic’ cinema.

  3. Not Susan Clarke Schaar Avatar
    Not Susan Clarke Schaar

    The text of SB5014, creating the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, can be found here. You’ll want the Finance Committee substitute version.

    The bill does not create a regional government. It creates what may be more analogous to a board of governors with members representing each participating member locality and the General Assembly, and the board of governors prioritizes the funds raised by the localities. The board does not raise any revenue on its own. It would be more appropriate therefore to consider that membership on the HRTA is merely an added responsibility of the job of the member of the locality’s elected governing body designated to serve on the HRTA, than a new office filled with unelected bureaucrats. To say that the HRTA’s members are unelected is analogous to saying JLARC is unelected, even though it comprises 14 members of the General Assembly who sit by virtue of their office.

    There is also a difference between the bonds proposed by the House. The House proposes to bond General Fund assets for transportation. That’s similar to what happened in Enron’s accounting system: take out debt on an asset listed in one ledger in order to increase the appearance of cash in another ledger. The House proposes to borrow money to improve or construct capital assets belonging to the General Fund, and transfer General Fund cash to transportation to make transportation seem cash-rich. Much has also been made of the Commonwealth’s bond rating, and the question is raised about why we bothered to raise taxes in 2002 to protect the bond rating if we’re not willing to use it. The bond rating is important to lowering the cost of borrowing money, when money is needed, i.e., a recession when state revenues fall below the level by which state spending can fall and still meet critical needs. It may be necessary to bond capital assets belonging the General Fund in a recession, rather than pay cash from the General Fund for them, because cash is not on hand in a recession. But to bond such assets now, merely to divert the cash on hand to another ledger account, is not only bad accounting, but bad business and that should be enough to persuade even those who inaccurately believe the Commonwealth’s budget should operate like a private sector budget.

    Similarly, the House reduces the payment of cash made by the Senate into the Rainy Day Fund. Again, this sells Virginia short over the long-term, because a recession is inevitable. The bonding of capital assets in the General Fund now, while General Fund revenues are not short, coupled with the reduced payment to the Rainy Day Fund basically a double whammy, putting the Commonwealth on the least favorable footing when that inevitable recession arrives.

    My understanding of Scott’s comment, while I am not deeply familiar with the administrative appropriating power of the HRTA, is that the HRTA is staffed by entities that already exist: VDOT and the HRPDC. The elected representatives constituting the HRTA, again using the board of governors model, would direct the staff of the two entities in a more coordinated and regional fashion than the current disjointed and parochial fashion by which those entities currently receive input from the various localities. In other words, the people doing the bureaucratic work are already in place; their assignments would merely originate in a new (and more effective, cooperative, and regional) umbrella organization.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The original post is rife with misinformaton as pointed out by

    Scott Leake who said…
    “…”Knowledge Is Good.” Now you know and that is good.

    and

    Not Susan Clarke Schaar who said…

    The bill does not create a regional government. It creates what may be more analogous to a board of governors with members

    Here’s some more facts:

    Unelected VDOT bureacrats currently decide much of the allocation of statewide transportation funding AND where and when and for what that money will be spent.

    A vote against a Regional Authority is a vote to CONTINUE the current VDOT-directed paradigm.

    Folks did NOT vote against Regional authorities in the 2002 referenda. What they voted against was sending their local tax dollars to Richmond/VDOT and for VDOT to decide the priorities for their region.

    Almost a dozen LOCAL referenda have been SUPPORTED by voters – when they were assured what specific projects their “yes” vote would produce.

    Further – major urban areas in Virginia ALREADY have Transportation Authorities. They are called MPOs (Metropolitan Policy Organizations) AND they are MANDATED by Federal and State Law AND most of them have majorities of elected officials on their boards.

    FYI: MPO’s in Virginia
    Central Virginia MPO
    Blacksburg-Christiansburg Montgomery Area MPO
    Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO
    Fredericksburg Area MPO
    Hampton Roads Planning District Commisssion
    Harrisonburg-Rockingham MPO
    Winchester-Frederick MPO
    Richmond Area MPO
    Roanoke Valley Area MPO
    Tri-Cities Area MPO
    West Piedmont PDC (Danville MPO)

    The Hampton Roads MPO is: http://www.hrpdc.org/about.shtml

    It’s voting members include elected officials from:

    Chesapeake
    Gloucester County
    Hampton
    Isle of Wight County
    James City County
    Newport News
    Norfolk
    Poquoson
    Portsmouth
    Suffolk
    Virginia Beach
    Williamsburg
    York County

    It’s Mission is:

    Develops programs including Long Range (Transportation) Planning, Congestion Management System, Intelligent Transportation System, Transportation Improvement Program (The 6yr plan) and Air Quality

    They also: Conduct studies of transportation needs/financial issues, major corridors, major intersections and impacts of major development

    There are two parts of the Transportation Critter:

    1. – Planning, prioritization, construction priorities

    2. – Funding

    Regional Planning – especially for transportation is not only a “good thing” but it is, in fact, mandated by law.

    If some feel that “unelected” officials should not be doing this job then the solution is simple – In the enabling legislation – require that they be elected much like School Boards in Va. are but it is (in my opinion) exceptionally shortsighted to use the unelected bureacrat condundrum as justification for NOT have ANY regional authority – AND – in doing so – to essentially advocate continuing the current Richmond/VDOT bureaucratic AND autocratic control of local projects.

    It is beyond me why folks would want to send their locally-collected taxes to Richmond/VDOT and to receive, in turn, from them – promissory notes in the form of “wish lists” of projects that have 20-year construction timefames.

    If the problem is the decision about how to tax and how much to tax then put the issue to voters via referenda – which, as pointed out, has been fairly successful.

    The truth of the matter is that Hampton Roads (and truly most all local and regional jurisdictions) must address their own transportation issues – both the funding AND the planning and prioritization.

    It’s most appropriate for the people who actually live in the Hampton Roads area to decide if they want to increase the sales tax, or have TOLL roads, or some other method or methods of funding their own transportation needs.

    The same folks warning about “unelected” LOCAL decision-makers apparently are quite satisfied with the exact same concept at the State Level via VDOT bureaucrats.

    Giving VDOT more money is like paying a contractor in full before he does the actual work. At that point – it is HIS decision as to the what/where/how/etc.

    So – we have folks who – by their opposition to Regional Authorities – THEIR ANSWSER is to CONTINUE the current process.

    And I think the reason why is also quite unenlightened and unrealistic.

    Those who support state-wide collection of taxes for transporation .. directed to the VDOT autocracy – believe apparently that they will ultimately end us with a greater share of the proceeds than if those proceeds were collected locally.

    In other words – they’ll get a greater state-wide allocation as compared to other jurisdictions.

    Nice work if you can get it but I doubt seriously that the rest of the jurisdictions will support that concept though it’s true that several of them also believe they could prevail in the same inequitable scenario.

    What the heck is wrong with local jurisdictions and Regions taking direct responsibility for their own actions with regard to land-use and planning.

    Where is the fatal flaw in that logic?

    I am flumoxed.. by those elected leaders in Hampton Roads who are opposed to taking control of their own destiny.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Not SCS and LG: Thanks for the dialogue. I don’t know what you do in your day jobs, but you may know a lot more of the legal beagle mumbo jumbo that is so important to understand in its details than I do.

    Thanks very much for the link.

    We are talking past one another in several respects.

    Raising our taxes is a function of government. Deciding what is built public works are made when and where – to use tolls or not – etc are functions of government. So, you can call that pig in a dress with ear rings whatever you like, but it’s still a pig.

    The citizens voted against the sales tax in the 02 referendum that came back like Frankenstein in this bill.

    The citizens voted against the unelected government too. Actually, the citizens had many reasons to vote against the 02 Tax Scam – the plan, the tax, the administration (government). I heard plenty of folks speak against the government part as an invitation to corruption.

    Having 8 of 13 city/county councils is a slick way to go around the NO vote from 02. You only have to get a majority of 8 councils. Good politics and bad government. Only a handful of politicians have to be bought. It’s much easier to influence. Meanwhile the citizens of the 5 resisting councils and those who oppose the ideas in the other 8 (which in 02 equaled 2/3 of the voters – 75% in my town (all Marty’s constituents BTW) will get a tax and plan jammed down their throats. If it’s such a great idea put it up to a referendum again.

    So, what will the regional authority/unelected government/pig in a dress cost – total annual cost? What are the jobs and salaries? Consultants, too.

    How is the funding we voted on across the Commonwealth for bonds recently different from the bonds the House wants to do?

    The Rainy Day fund is fine. How much more money do you want to put there?

    Larry, what local HR referenda are talking about?

    The issue isn’t anti-regional transportation planning.

    There are several sticking issues.

    Tax and tolls. I, and many other Virginians, support the Dillon rule structure that says those that tax me (one exception that I know with HR waste tax) must face me by name on the ballot.

    So, if the answer is tolls or, even gas tax, or whatever they folks who want to raise the tax need to face us on the ballot. Not an unelected governement. Not 8 out of 13 city/county governments.

    If you have a stupid plan for funding – like the punish the poor, regressive, job-killing sales tax – then you need to face the voters.

    Another issue is accountability for the plan. The plan in 02 to have the Port of Norfolk dump its traffic on I-64 a few miles north of the Hampton Roads bridge was not bright. So much for all that planning effort.

    Supposedly, correct me if I am wrong, Sen Ken Stolle presented some plan to expand the bridges on the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel but not expand the tubes. Duh, the next picture of ‘bottleneck’ for the encyclopedia.

    The sum of the plan in 02 – according to the planners themselves – would result in more congested miles in 20 years than we have now. Hmm. Some plan.

    Nothing stops any HR legislator (I think you clarified this in any earlier blog, Larry) from introducing a bill that says we want to fund priority #1 (they could use the input from the HRPDC) and here is how – tolls across the James, 6% tax on newspapers, 6% tax on legal services, etc. plus Federal money xyz, etc.

    Then, the legislator could look around and see if they could go with a bill for priority #2.

    If someone wants to create a new planning authority, I’d like to see if it is in addition to the old ones, how much it costs etc. And as long as you don’t give them taxing authority – fine. They can make recommendations and legislators who are leaders can put those proposals into law.

    The legal authority for elected politicians to be elected leaders is there. They have to make decisions, set priorities and stand up for them. It’s way too much to ask of the majority of Republican senators. They want to pass the buck to an un-elected government to stick it to the People with a sales tax – again.

  6. not susan clarke schaar Avatar
    not susan clarke schaar

    Technical point of correction: the taxes adopted by 8 of the HRTA localities are not thrust upon the unwilling constituents of the remaining localities. If 8 localities raise the requisite tax, they join the HRTA; if 3 localities decline to raise the tax, they are excluded from the HRTA. The tax is not collected in those three localities, and the HRTA’s members will have to decide to what extent if any those localities will benefit as free-riders on the transportation improvement projects implemented by the HRTA. For example, if the HRTA wants to erect a bridge of the James River joining Newport News and Isle of Wight but Isle of Wight has declined to impose the threshold tax for membership in the HRTA, the HRTA may proceed to build the bridge even though Isle of Wight would free-ride on the taxes levied elsewhere. The HRTA may decide that such a bridge would be of such benefit to Newport News, and Hampton, and York, and Suffolk, and so on, who have all joined the HRTA, that the bridge is worth building even without the contribution from Isle of Wight. Of course, the HRTA could also decide to build the bridge somewhere else because Isle of Wight isn’t carrying its share of the burden.

    In other words, the threshold taxes are essentially membership dues. Once your locality has adopted the threshold tax, your locality joins the HRTA. If you decline to adopt the threshold tax, you simply don’t join the club. Whether you get your preferred transportation projects as a non-member locality is up to the HRTA, though, so it’s probably in your best interest to join.

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Thanks for the clarification.

  8. Chris Avatar

    When did we elect a bunch of bean counters as our representatives in Richmond?

    Are there any leaders down there? Lawmakers who can rationally explain an issue to voters and rally them to the cause? Or are we just supposed to trust our bean counter lords that we need to raise taxes every year to spend money on X, Y, or Z?

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