Local Commentary

News from the Coffin Corner: Delegate Hull’s Richmond Report




Missed Opportunity

At 1:39 a.m. last Thursday morning, the special legislative session on transportation called by Governor Tim Kaine ended.

But, there was really nothing to show for it as the General Assembly came away with no solution to our transportation problems.

The failure to come away with anything of substance was a classic missed opportunity and a failure of leadership on so many levels.

No Deal, Just Blame

I stated in this column before the special session began that I did not see an agreement in sight. But, my view changed as time went on.

I went from pessimism to hopeful optimism and ended with a feeing of frustration at how polarized we have become in this Commonwealth.

When it was all over, there seemed to be a consensus by newspaper editorials from around the state that House Republicans were to blame.

Clearly, House GOP leaders used every parliamentary device to kill any bill to raise taxes, whether statewide or regionally.

They apparently even scuttled plans by their own members from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for regional tax increases.

The Events Unfold

The Governor had a plan and our Democratic floor leader introduced it in the House. But, it was killed in the House Rules Committee.

Senate Democrats had another plan, introduced by Senator Dick Saslaw. Unlike the Governor’s bill, it called for a gas tax increase, however small.

It passed the Senate and came to the House, where the Rules Committee, chaired by the Speaker, voted to send it to the floor without recommendation.

Apparently, GOP leaders wanted Democrats to cast votes in support of gasoline taxes on the House floor.

Even most House Democrats could not support gasoline taxes, but Senator Saslaw was adamant about refusing to consider any changes to his bill.

Getting Closer

A breakthrough came when Governor Kaine was able to get House and Senate Democrats together.

The Senators agreed to have House Democrats introduce floor amendments to the Saslaw bill to strip away the gasoline tax increase.

If that passed the House, then they would either pass it and send it to the Governor or agree to a conference committee with the House to work out differences.

We announced this by releasing a statement to the press the day before the special session convened on what would be the last day.

That gave House Republicans notice that we would not try to surprise them with some maneuver on the floor.

Final Day

When the bill finally came up for a vote, Republicans voted with us House Democrats to strip away the gasoline tax increase.

But, then they voted to kill the amended bill. In doing so, they also let a compromise slip through their fingers.

If they had amended the bill further to only leave the regional tax and fee increases, they could have killed two birds with one stone.

They could have declared victory and taken credit for finding a transportation solution while protected their rural, anti-tax base from any tax increase.

After all, they voted last year for tax and fee increases in the regional plans that were partially thrown out by the courts.

But, the difference is that in that bill, they did not impose the tax increases themselves. Instead, they authorized local officials to do that.

Now we are going to have to continue to suffer from the second or third worst traffic congestion in the United States. But, who’s counting?