WITH HIS own cut-and-paste financial plan for transportation already coming unglued, Gov. Jim Gilmore has now rejected an alternative that at least would let Northern Virginia localities vote some transportation tax increases of their own. He refused to support it, even though some of his own advisers were urging the step. He would rather fake a solution to the transportation problem than give up the pretense so central to his politics, that the problem can be solved without substantial revenue.
As a result, flustered lawmakers in both parties are left to scramble for a substantive way to finance desperately needed transportation relief. Northern Virginia's Republican legislators had better summon political courage and do battle with their governor if that's what it's going to take.
At best, the Northern Virginia proposal was only a second-choice, back-door approach to the problem--an attempt to slap together a set of local income taxes if they were approved by voters in separate referendums. The jurisdictions have had this option for more than a decade, but the law contained sunset provisions that made it unworkable. Those restrictions, along with hopes for sufficient state aid, kept local leaders from exercising the options. This year, a bill sponsored by Del. James M. Scott, Democrat of Fairfax, would make the law easier to use. Each jurisdiction would act independently, and could choose to hold a referendum on an income tax of up to one percent on Virginia taxable income. If all participating Northern Virginia jurisdictions were to approve the full one percent, the estimated annual yield would be about $430 million. Counting what the state already spends, that could come close to doubling the funds available for transportation in Northern Virginia, though the Scott bill would permit some of the money to be spent for education as well.
A state with all the money that Virginia has been taking in during these boom years ought to be committing more general revenues for transportation, with a dedicated stream of money that could be leveraged to float bonds. But Gov. Gilmore's priority campaign issue--repeal of the car tax--now involves $1 billion a year in forgone revenue, while his transportation plan is crafted largely by advancing the use of federal money (spend now at the cost of later) and using tobacco-settlement money, also leveraged to spend soon and diminish future options.
When it comes to a long-range transportation plan to meet the needs that his own commission has cited for the next 20 years, Gov. Gilmore is content to ride through his term and leave the heavy financial lifting to others. Virginia can't wait. The Northern Virginia delegation in Richmond must pull together, join with others with similar needs and push through the solid financial plan for transportation that the governor continues to try to avoid.