William J. Howell: The Face of Evil

Who is that caped man — the one twirling his handlebar moustache and emitting an evil laugh, mwa ha ha ha ha – at the suffering of Virginia commuters?

Why, it’s arch fiend William Howell — or at least the cartoon image of the House Speaker as penned by the editorialists at the Washington Post.

“To all appearances,” the Post writes, “Mr. Howell cares not a whit for Northern Virginia’s transportation nightmare.” He has “thumbed his nose” at federal funding for Metro, and has mindlessly “attacked” the Governor’s proposals to turn the Rail-to-Dulles project over to the unelected Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “In short, when Northern Virginia commuters, lawmakers and business leaders speak of a transportation crisis, their pleas fall on Mr. Howell’s deaf ears.”

I would respond this way: To all appearances, the Washington Post cares not a whit for either Northern Virginia’s commuters or its taxpayers. Its editorial writers want to raise taxes to perpetuate the same Business As Usual transportation and land use practices that have landed Northern Virginia in its current unsustainable predicament – tax and build, tax and build.

Where Howell is at least flexible enough to explore alternatives for improving mobility and access, the Washington Post is stuck on the same tired nostrums of the 1980s. To all appearances, its editorial writers have learned absolutely nothing in the past 20 years. To all appearances, they have shown absolutely no curiosity about any remedy not spoon fed to them by the tax-and-build lobby.

It’s not as if the Post has weighed the alternatives — building balanced communities, improving neighborhood connectivity, promoting telework, managing transportation demand, promoting shared ridership, implementing intelligent transportation systems, outsourcing maintenance — and found them wanting. The Post hasn’t evinced the slightest awareness that such alternatives even exist.

In addition to re-examining its sanctimonious attitude, the Post editorial writer might stop thumbing his nose at the facts. “Never mind,” he sneers, “that Virginia has not raised a new dime for transportation in 20 years.” Not one dime? Apparently, some $2 billion in revenues allocated from General Funds surpluses (in the current budget and proposed for the next) counts for nothing.

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5 responses to “William J. Howell: The Face of Evil”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, you make great points. However, so does The Post.

    Politically, there is little mystery about the likely effects of Mr. Howell’s recalcitrance. Northern Virginia’s incumbent Republican delegates, several of whom barely squeaked by against so-so challengers in last fall’s elections, won’t easily survive the ballot in 2007 if there is no sensible compromise on transportation funding. They’ll have Mr. Howell and, in some cases, their own pigheadedness to thank.

    2007 could be a nightmare for the Republican delegation from NOVA.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What this is about is whether a tax increase will be done at the state level and how the subsequent (increased) funding will be allocated to localities and by what formula (either existing or a new one).

    Here’s a datapoint:

    “Only four other states in addition to Virginia (Alaska, Delaware, North Carolina,
    and West Virginia) leave maintenance and construction of county (generally secondary) roads
    with the state; other states generally leave some degree of responsibility for these roads to the county.

    Thus except for roads within incorporated cities, most incorporated towns with a
    population over 3,500, Henrico County, and Arlington County, significant planning,
    construction, and maintenance responsibilities rest with the state whereas land use decisions are the responsibility of the locality”

    http://www.virginiadot.org/vtrc/main/online_reports/pdf/04-r14.pdf page 6

    The term “secondary roads” is misleading.

    It’s a 50 year-old VDOT vestige where VDOT designated roads according to their INTENDED useage and failed to see that in growth-areas that such roads would become major arteries.

    To this day – there are DIFFERENT VDOT pots of money for Primary and Secondary Roads – and they are allocated on different formulas.

    JLARC, in fact, recommended in 2002 that VDOT change it’s classification to be better aligned with current DOT industry standards.

    Some of the dialogue is really about this issue – and whether or not Regional Authorities should be created that are fully independent from VDOT AND have their own ability to raise revenues through taxes and PPTA toll roads.

    The Senate has tried to develop a consensus with respect to this approach but has run into objections from jurisdictions in both NoVa and Tidewater.

    The Senate, without consensus on Regional Authorities only see a raise tax/continue VDOT processes path and claim that VDOT reform is underway – but it’s more important to establish a sustainable source of road construction funds – OR risk having no construction funds by as early as 2010 as maintenance costs will consume ALL of the VDOT budget – if this is not done.

    Those in the House and Howell Camp ..do not agree and seriously doubt that more money will actually result in anything other than to disappear into another VDOT rathole.

    Both the House and the Senate are not talking about “serious” money.

    They’re arguing about whether $500 million new dollars (from surplus) or $1 billion (from new taxes) – on a STATEWIDE basis.

    NoVa alone could spend a billion a year for the next 20 years and not complete all of it’s “needed” projects so it’s pretty apparent that NoVa “share” of the $1 billion statewide dollars is not gong to be adequate (at least in their eyes).

    I’m not sure I see how Howell could “fix” this even if he were to totally capitulate to the Senate.

    I probably would be better “politically” for him to just duck the whole issue and escape the demonization now heaped on him but alas.. his retention of his House Leader role depends on those he represents in the House so he’s in a no-win situation.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, you make a number of very good points, but the one I’m focusing on right now is this: NoVa alone could spend a billion a year for the next 20 years and not complete all of it’s “needed” projects so it’s pretty apparent that NoVa “share” of the $1 billion statewide dollars is not gong to be adequate (at least in their eyes).

    Absolutely right. The philosophy underlying Virginia’s transportation policy — match every increase in traffic with an increase in transportation capacity — is broken. There is no way to keep up financially. Northern Virginia citizens will wind up with higher taxes AND a broken transportation system. There is no Big Fix, but there are a host of modest fixes, each of which address a piece of the problem and, collectively, can make a difference.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    “If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting.” An instructor at a management class I attended said that many years ago. It stuck with me, as I’ve found it rather insightful.

    The terrible shame for Virginia is that Senate and the mainstream press don’t understand this. The Governor does; but he’s already abandoned his sensible stand on tying land use and transportation.

    We simply cannot afford to construct enough transportation infrastructure to move people back and forth, over and over again. We cannot afford to fund projects, such as the extension of Metrorail when it doesn’t provide meaningful traffic relief.

    We cannot afford to permit transportation funding decisions to be made by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which generally makes those decisions based on lobbying and insider favoratism, at least according to the state auditor. We cannot afford to give VDOT more money when it lacks internal cost control mechanisms.

    Yet, these are the very “solutions” proffered by the Governor and the Senate and cheered weekly by most of the editorial writers in Virgina. Are there no William Allen Whites anywhere in the Commonwealth?

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    A rock thrown from the Washington Post is really a rose that should be worn as a badge of honor.

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