Last week, the Virginia General Assembly briefly regrouped to deal with the “transportation issue.” There was an impasse between the House of Delegates and State Senate. As a result, there was no agreed plan, and there will be no new solutions offered by the 2006 Assembly.
To those familiar with Virginia politics, the standoff between the House and Senate is deja vu all over again. Essentially, it’s the clash of two different Republican ideologies: the “no new taxes” of the House against the “tax and pave” of the Senate. Neither is popular. Efforts by both sides to rally public support are usually a flop.
There is a void for a Democratic alternative. Here’s one:
1. Manage demand of scarce resources. Both sides in the House vs. Senate debate ignore the value of conservation. The global temperature is rising and fossil fuels are depleting. Yet the Assembly has passed no legislation that limits fuel usage or encourages alternative (e.g. ethanol) fuel production. It should also establish funding benchmarks for public transit. Finally, any proposed new taxes should be on fuel use in order to measure and limit demand.
2. Seek an integrated vision. A major transportation package should change the landscape of the Commonwealth, much like canals and railroads in the 19th century. High-speed rail along the 95/64 corridor is one such vision. Another is the conversion of freight traffic along the Rte. 81 corridor from road to rail. These projects can link our urban areas and promote better land use. These types of projects will also challenge the status quo at VDOT. People can get excited about the future.
3. Level the Playing Field on Taxes: No transportation plan can succeed without a dedicated revenue source to finance projects. Yet the House plan was based upon exorbitant fines for traffic violations — which are levied largely against the least prosperous. Many of these fines will go unpaid, which will only increase the number of unlicensed drivers. The bottom line is that criminal law should punish anti-social conduct, not rely upon it for funding social improvements. The taxes to support transportation should be drawn equally from the pool of users.
If the Assembly would incorporate these ideas, then maybe somebody (outside the Chamber of Commerce) would care about this debate. And maybe we could actually get something done.