It has been 12 days since the 2007 General Assembly session adjourned after 46 days. In this “short session,” 1,551 bills and resolutions were approved.
There were a number of good bills passed and we narrowly averted some very bad legislation. Very little of that legislation was significant.
The big issue this year and the one which eluded us in a special session until September of last year was transportation.
In an attempt to solve our road and rail problems, a Republican bill finally emerged this year which was approved on the session’s final day.
I know that the ”best is the enemy of the good” and goodness knows that I have voted for many “good” bills over the years.
But, this was not one of them. I joined 30 other Democrats and three Republicans in the House and all 18 Senate Democrats in voting against it.
Many feel that the transportation package is aimed more at allowing the GOP majority to get through the November elections than at a meaningful roads and rail plan.
How was it bad? Let me count the ways. First, in a section diverting traffic fines to transportation, it includes a reference to a state statute that does not exist.
Next, it includes a statewide component that takes cash from the General Fund, which is used to fund education and other services.
This money would be diverted for 20 years to pay off a bond package that is inadequate to remedy the long term lack of investment in our transportation infrastructure.
Next, it includes mandates for local land use changes that are unworkable and seem to have been designed by those who do not understand local planning.
It also shifts the burden of paying for new secondary streets from the state, which has been responsible for them for 75 years.
This state responsibility has been traditionally funded with gasoline tax revenue collected for that purpose.
But, the bill shifts that burden onto local governments, which would have to use property taxes to pay to build and maintain these new roads.
The bill also contains a provision for a separate set of taxes and fees for the Hampton Roads area so that they can pay for their own transportation improvements.
The problem is that there is absolutely no consensus about that among their members of the General Assembly and no support from local governments there.
Next, the bill includes a separate set of taxes and fees for Northern Virginia which would have to be approved by local boards of supervisors and city councils.
Yet the leaders of these governing bodies have said that this package of revenue sources is too burdensome to be imposed.
Finally, since Northern Virginians pay about 40-percent of state income and sales taxes, we will be paying off a large chunk of the bonds for projects elsewhere in the state.
Clearly, Governor Kaine will have to recommend amendments to this bill when the General Assembly holds its one-day reconvened session in April.
If these changes are not approved, then he will probably have to veto the legislation. So, the fight is joined and much hangs in the balance.
Not only does our transportation future depend on the outcome of this, but so do the futures of 140 General Assembly members facing elections in November.