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Posted at 02:24 PM ET, 02/07/2013

The key to a Va. transportation deal? The phony money


Picking up on the ideas Jim Hoeft wrote about in our latest newsletter regarding the angst among some House GOP caucus members in wake of the Speaker’s trashing of the Senate redistricting plan

The obvious question: Why didn’t any House members appeal Howell’s ruling? The votes to win just weren’t there. If anything, the House caucus was united behind the Speaker, and those who might have entertained a challenge would have been perceived as attacking the Speaker personally. In other words, they would have committed career suicide.

Fine. Redistricting ends up in the circular file. What effect, if any, does it have on the other bill that defines this session: the lone, surviving transportation measure now before the Senate? One line of thought is that Speaker Howell and Democratic leader Dick Saslaw have reached an understanding on that. Over in the Senate, Mr. Saslaw will find the Republican vote he needs to amend the House bill more to his liking — meaning it will contain big tax hikes (and don’t forget about the regional authorities … yes, they are back on the radar).

This ugly thing will roll back to the House, which will likely reject the amendments. Off we go to conference, where the real deals were always intended to be struck.

What can this handful of legislators do to craft a bill that will pass both Houses? The secret is in the money that doesn’t exist — that so-called Internet sales tax.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s plan, and the Senate Republican alternatives, all contained a prize fiction: Much of the money for Virginia’s roads was going to come from a federal bill (that has yet to be introduced, let alone passed) giving states the power to compel online retailers to collect state sales taxes. Nevermind that each state would then have to pass its own laws setting up such a tax regime. What matters is the perception that the state can simply reach out its hand and grab tens of millions of dollars.

Until those two large hurdles are cleared, and there is no guarantee they will be any time soon, it’s all phony money. And it’s the perfect ingredient for cooking up a deal.

That’s because, like the governor, Democrats have a big incentive to see some sort of transportation bill pass in this session. The governor came roaring out of the box when the Senate shot down all the transportation bills by labeling Democrats the “party of no.” Since then, the heat has been turned up another notch, with Democrats own words from the 2011 session — when, ostensibly, they held up the state budget because it did not spend enough money on certain transportation projects — being thrown back at them.

Democrats can’t afford to be seen as obstructionists, let alone hypocrites — after all, they have been the ones “moving Virginia forward” lo these many years. They need something, and the only something on deck is the (amended) McDonnell bill.

Enter the phony money.

[Continue reading Norman Leahy’s post at Bearing Drift.]

Norman Leahy blogs at Bearing Drift. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Norman Leahy  |  02:24 PM ET, 02/07/2013

 
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