Local Commentary

Senator Whipple

Governor Kaine to the rescue!

You may recall that in my last column I explained why I had voted against the Republican transportation plan: it took nearly $200 million from the General Fund that Is normally used for education, health care and public safety; it required the local Boards and Councils, not the Senators and Delegates, to impose all the taxes proposed for Northern Virginia; it suggested that bonds would be secured by annual appropriations; it offered no funding for transit operations; and a myriad of other problems.

Now Governor Kaine has proposed a substitute bill that vastly improves the proposed legislation and has widespread support.

How did he do this?

To begin with, he met with the interested parties. This was a refreshing approach after the Republican bill, 105 pages long, was sprung on the General Assembly the last day of the Session with no time to digest the details. One consequence of that maneuver was that the bill had many technical problems requiring about 100 amendments just to fix the errors.

He met with the local elected officials in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to find out their concerns about the bill and worked with them to address these issues. For example, he reduced the reliance on the commercial real estate tax and made sure it would not apply to apartment buildings, which would have increased rents. He gave Northern Virginia the same menu of tax options as in Hampton Roads, and he allows most new taxes to be decided upon regionally. Now local officials are prepared to implement the regional plans.

He met with rural supervisors who had been dismayed to learn that they were not eligible for any funding from the proposed bond issue – and fixed that omission. He did the same for urban streets, another category that had been ignored.

Governor Kaine has made the bond package fiscally responsible by backing it with a dedicated revenue source, one-third of the insurance premiums, and expanded it to $3 billion (from $2.5 billion). The Governor’s amendments increase the share of the bonds devoted to transit capital to 20%, amounting to $60 million annually. This will enable the state to fully fund its share of transit capital.

Furthermore, his amendments provide transit operating funds of $45 million per year. This did require the designation of some general fund revenue from the recordation tax but results in nearly a 50% increase in state funding for transit, something that’s not only important in this area but also in many cities around the state.

The remainder of the statewide funding will address the "maintenance gap". Virginia funds maintenance first and construction second. As needs have grown, maintenance expenditures have been eating into funds originally designated for construction. This bill will help address that problem.

Now this bill, even in its much-improved form, is definitely not all that needs to be done for transportation. However, it moves us along the way and will help every part of Virginia.