GOP to N.Va: What Traffic?

Friday, July 11, 2008

DON'T BE fooled by the parliamentary razzle-dazzle and the gush of obfuscatory recrimination pouring forth from Richmond this week. The failure of Virginia's lawmakers to provide the first new new source of funding in a generation for the state's aging transportation network lies squarely with the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates.

It was the Republicans who rejected any real attempt at raising revenue statewide to plug what is fast becoming a gaping hole in the funding available for highway upkeep. It was the Republicans who spurned regional packages to deal with the gridlock in the state's two most urbanized areas, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, through new taxes and fees.

And then -- cynically, comically -- it was the Republicans who rushed out statements faulting Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) for convening a special session of the legislature without first achieving a consensus plan. Never mind that the Republicans themselves, so many of whom have either signed pledges to oppose new taxes or fear primary challengers who have, make any reasonable consensus impossible.

Republicans like to pretend that state transportation funding, last meaningfully increased a little more than halfway through the Reagan administration, can be addressed by diverting existing general fund money to build and maintain highways, bridges, tunnels and rails. They like to pretend that those funds are not needed for public schools, the salaries of sheriff's deputies, the operation of prisons, or payments to Medicaid providers. The bills they offered this week on transportation -- proposing to divert future tax revenue from Dulles International and Reagan National airports, for instance -- were therefore fraudulent; if push came to shove, those bills would have been undone by Republicans themselves.

In fact, the GOP bills were not really intended to ease traffic at all; rather, they were meant mainly to fool Virginia voters into thinking that the Republicans want to solve problems. They don't. When the only serious transportation measure on offer came to the floor of the House on Wednesday -- it was a Senate proposal to provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually in new statewide and regional revenue while also lowering taxes on food and prescription drugs -- it was backed by most Democrats but received precisely one vote from a Republican: Del. Thomas Davis Rust of Fairfax.

So there will be no transportation remedy in Virginia, not anytime soon. That means there will be no assured new source of funding for Metro, funding that could have helped unlock $1.5 billion in federal money over the next decade. The failure means that tens of millions of dollars in road construction money, in Northern Virginia and elsewhere, will be siphoned off to maintain existing roads. And it means Northern Virginia commuters will sit and sit in traffic while downstate Republicans assure their constituents that they will never -- never, ever -- raise taxes for transportation.

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