Local Commentary

Senator Whipple

No doubt you have been reading about the Republican transportation plan passed on the last day of the General Assembly session. On the whole, it’s much ado about nothing.

You may have wondered why I voted against the plan since transportation is such an important issue in our area.

Here’s why.

It’s a sham.

The Northern Virginia regional portion of the plan raises no money whatsoever for Northern Virginia. All it does is allow the local governments in this region to raise local taxes for transportation purposes.

To add insult to injury, if the Northern Virginia governments do raise taxes to make up for the state’s failure to do so, they must assume the planning and construction of their secondary streets.

And almost all of the taxes would be paid by local residents and business. Only $30 million of the potential $400+ million would be paid by visitors to the area (2% rental car "impact fee" and 2% transient occupancy tax). The remainder would come from a commercial real estate "assessment" ($208 million annually) that also applies to apartment buildings and would drive rents higher; an initial driver’s license fee of $100; and a "congestion relief fee" ($164 million annually) that has heretofore been known as the grantor’s tax paid by the seller of a property.

The statewide plan is little better.

It will dedicate about $319 million annually to transportation needs, less than the amount needed to fill the ongoing maintenance gap.

In addition the plan calls for 50% of any end-of-year balance to be used for transportation. In the press release the plan’s proponents say that it will average $64 million per year, still not enough to fill the maintenance gap. But of course the amount will vary from year-to-year and could be much less than that (or if we’re really off on our estimates, perhaps more).

As you see, so far there is no money for statewide road construction.

To deal with this little problem, the plan says the Governor can issue up to $2.5 billion in bonds over several years. The plan assumes that the Governor will take $172 million of existing money currently used for programs such as public education, health care or public safety, and dedicate it to debt service for transportation bonds.

Finally, even if all the proposed actions were taken: the local governments in Northern Virginia take all the responsibility for increasing revenue upon themselves and the Governor took leave of his senses and issued bonds without revenue to back them up, there still would not be enough money to begin to solve our problems.

By now, I hope you agree that a NO vote was the right one.

The Governor is now reviewing the bill and is likely to offer a substitute that corrects some of the obvious deficiencies of the proposed plan. It remains to be seen if the Republican House will accept his revisions.

If not, the fault is surely theirs.