Senate Steps Up

Yesterday, the Senate passed two key pieces of legislation. 

The first bill was SJR 6004, which starts the process for a constitutional amendment for a “double lockbox,” i.e.  forbidding the Assembly from “commingling” transportation trust fund dollars with our state general fund.  This concept has been promised many times, most recently by Tim Kaine in 2005, but never formally adopted into our state constitution.  I copatroned this bill which passed on a 31-5 vote.

The more controversial bill was SB 6009, which is the consolidated Senate transportation plan.  After hours of debate, it passed 21-16.  I voted “yes.”  Here are some of the highlights:

1.  It has both statewide and regional components.

2.  At the statewide level, it raises the sales tax 0.25%, the titling tax on cars by 0.5% and the tax on gasoline a “penny a gallon” for six years.  It also removes the half-cent sales tax on groceries (currently dedicated to transportation) in order to help working families.  The net total raised statewide ranges from $450M to $720M over the next six years.

3.  A quarter of the new money comes “off the top” for the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund.  This ranges from $109M in 2010 to $174.5M in 2015.  The majority of this new money will be coming to Northern Virginia - the single largest state assistance in my memory to our region.

4.  The remainder of the money (from $266M to $446M) is distributed to VDOT to fix the deficit in the Highway Maintenance Fund, which has been growing for the past several years.  By fixing that, the state can restore the Six Year Plan of projects which has been radically downsized in the last few years.

5.  At the regional level, the plan largely mimics the numbers produced by last year’s HB 3202, without using unconstitutional gimmicks.

6.  In Northern Virginia, there is a half-cent sales tax increase, as well as the previously-enacted grantor’s tax and transient occupancy increases.  The sum total is $335M-380M generated annually thru 2015. 

7.  Of that new money, $75M comes “off the top” for expanded METRO and VRE service.  Again, transit is front-loaded.  The rest is dedicated primarily to secondary road construction which has been lagging for years.

8.  Added together, the state and regional allocation for transit in Northern Va. alone will exceed $150M right away and should eventually equal $200M annually.  Leveraged with Federal funds, it could mean as much as $400M annually for our region to expand METRO and VRE service and develop new services, e.g. “bus rapid transit” in the outer suburbs. 

A few comments …

First, I believe in the statewide, not regional, approach to transportation solutions.  I also believe that Northern Va. legislators should flex their muscles to get a “fair share” for the economic engine.  In this case, I’ll settle for half a loaf (or maybe 2/3).

Second, I believe that new funds should be dedicated (as much as possible) to transit solutions.  SB 6009 goes farther in that respect than any plan I’ve ever seen proposed in Richmond.  That is it’s best feature.

Third, I believe that transportation users, especially out-of-state drivers, should bear the costs.  While not completely dedicated to that concept, SB 6009 at least includes it.  Other plans, including the Governor’s, did not.  

SB 6009 still has some kinks but no one can deny that it is both honest and comprehensive.  

The House of Delegates now have the bill.  The Senate and Governor have both stepped up with our plans.  As they say on the basketball court,  who’s got next?

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