"I INVITE YOU to think big," Gov. Gilmore told members of his new 21-member transportation study commission, "and I invite you to think new." He then offered a novel response: Build whatever is necessary, but don't raise any taxes to pay for it. Not even an increase in the gasoline tax, which he could always dress up as a "user fee." Federal highway funding is fine, of course, but if the commission concludes more tax revenues are needed, "We are not doing our jobs."
This free-ride strategy may not deliver Virginia from the transportation pinches of the second most-congested region in the country. But if Gov. Gilmore times it right, it could deliver him out of his one term with bragging rights about never having raised a tax. Then whoever succeeds him gets stuck with the tab. This is not what Republican or Democratic state lawmakers from Northern Virginia -- or residents, business leaders and anyone else who needs to move around each day -- has in mind. Fresh thinking about ways to improve transportation are fine, but immediate needs can't wait.
John T. "Til" Hazel Jr., who has been working with other top business executives around the state for a stronger investment in transportation, finds the Gilmore vision lacking: "Gilmore is in total denial. . . . It's see no need, hear no need and speak no need."
Though the governor wouldn't entertain a hint of a gas tax increase, he charged his commission to look at ways to move more people into fewer cars or, when convenient, into mass transit; to explore a fast-track system that could cut some of the red tape of environment regulation; and to moderate growth and increased transportation demand. That's well and good, but the winners of state legislative elections this fall may come to Richmond with a mandate for more realistic financing to keep things on the move.