The Transportation Session Takes Shape

Today’s Daily Press has an article on a transportation forum held Wednesday in Hampton, sponsored by three local Chambers of Commerce. Those of you in the Hampton Roads region with Cox Cable will have numerous chances to see the discussion on its public access channels. The heart of the show (after some rousing warm up by yours truly and a very fired up Phil Shucet) was the legislative panel: Senate Finance Chair John Chichester, Senate Transportation Chair Marty Williams, House Transportation Chair Leo Wardrup and House Transportation member Mayme BaCote, with Secretary Pierce Homer in the middle.

What was argued yesterday will be argued over and over again as this next General Assembly approaches. Should we use general funds for transportation? Should we grant private concessions on potentially profitable roads and bridges? Can the Hampton Roads region agree on priorities and will a regional approach work after that was rejected so soundly in 2002? Has VDOT improved sufficiently or at all?

The key moments to my ear:

John Chichester expressing his concern over the interstate tolling proposal from former Governor Baliles: “People who pay the toll may not see the benefits during their entire working lives.”

Chichester admitting one difference from 2004: There is nothing comparable to the threat to the AAA bond rating looming out there.

Leo Wardrup: “We have to view the word toll as as not a four-letter word” and pointing out (I didn’t know this) that the original Eisenhower interstate proposal was based on tolls.

Marty Williams: Keying off the stock phrase we can’t tax our way out of this with his own version: “We can’t toll ourselves out of this.”

Wardrup: Taking credit for the steps taken in 2005, which totaled $850 million when you include revenue growth already in the pipeline and some one-time expenditures. He said they should be able to propose “at least that much this year again, actually for both of the next two years.” (And he may be right, especially if they count normal revenue growth and the extra federal money.)

Chichester: Still opposed to using general funds, except for specific investments, such as (his example) the “Heartlands Corridor” project to increase rail capacity by raising overpasses to handle double-stacked trains.

Wardup: Who has asked his ongoing subcommittee to look at changes in the formula. “The formula is not the issue. I’m convinced of that now.”

Wardrup: Hinting that his opposition to tax increases does not necessarily apply to local taxing authority on transportation (he didn’t say with or without a referendum.)

Pierce Homer: None of this matters until we deal with the underlying fiscal problem created by the maintenance costs, growing so fast they are now draining existing construction funds.

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  1. TheModerate Avatar

    We need to set aside money that can only be used for transportation.

    1) Choose or develop a 5, 7, and 10-year plan. (There are several to choose from)
    2) Find the funding sources and raise the revenue. (There are several to choose from)
    3) Lock-up the revenue so it can only be used on projects within the plan.

    To get things started we should consider funneling some money from the General Fund into the “lockbox”.

    Perhaps we could pass a resolution, amendment, etc. that says, “no more than 5%, 10%, 15%, or 20%, of the money in the General Fund can be funneled into the transportation lockbox through 2010 or 2015.”

    As money flows into the new Trans. Fund it will become less and less dependent on the General Fund.

    Be creative. Perhaps we should only raise the gas tax and food tax on stations that are within 1 or 2 miles of the Interstate.

    More out of state drivers, particularly truckers would pay higher taxes for using our roads. Locals, unless they were using the road (which justifies the tax) would know this and avoid the interstate gas stations.

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I’m shocked that this meeting, which smacks of “regionalism,” took place. Does Russ Potts know about this?

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    It’s amusing to me that the same politicians, who are nervous about asking users to pay tolls, don’t hesitate for a second to tax everyone else – especially seniors and the poor – with the regressive sales tax increases. They pushed for sales taxes to pay for transportation in 03 and 04.

    Sales taxes become invisible to the voters. Tolls are always in your face.

    Methinks their positions are based on their modest political courage, not any principles.

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