WHILE VIRGINIANS all around the state are demanding serious transportation improvements, Gov. Gilmore is still riding along the right shoulder, blaming the ruckus on "Democratic screamings for tax increases." The answers, says the governor, rest somewhere within a commission that he named to look at transportation policy -- and that he told at the time not to expect his support for any tax increase.
The commission is supposed to produce a transportation relief package before November, when every seat in the House of Delegates and state Senate will up for election. But Republican lawmakers -- especially those from Northern Virginia and other traffic-choked areas around the state -- are feeling too much political pressure to wait that long for some answer from their governor.
It's not as if the subject needs fresh study. Roads scholars from commissions past have repeatedly pinpointed a principal need: money. Whether for roads, transit or commuter rail, billions of dollars must be directed to transportation. The Democrats have proposed for starters that half of future budget surpluses be invested in transportation, along with $71 million in annual revenue from the real estate deeds tax that could be used to leverage $710 million in transportation bonds.
Northern Virginia Republicans also sense the daily desperation of constituents forced to waste growing portions of their lives in commuter crawls. They long ago set aside narrow partisan concerns in search of bipartisan cooperation in seeking transportation relief. Says GOP Del. Jack Rollison of Prince William County, "We need a consensus between the two parties and the regions of the state. . . . It's an inescapable notion that we have to come up with additional funding."
Such a consensus would be far easier to build if the governor were to drop all the small-bore partisan potshots at Democrats and acknowledge flat out that transportation relief will not come cheap.