VIRGINIA'S lawmakers, still reeling from their protracted and extended session in Richmond this year, will be back for one day next week. The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday to take up a package of budget adjustments that Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has proposed, including one to add much-needed funds for transportation. His proposal falls far short of the amount Virginia should have committed to transportation years ago, but given the legislature's failure to do anything significant for roads or transit this year, the governor's relatively modest proposal deserves support.
The General Assembly approved $1.5 billion in higher taxes for the two-year, $59.7 billion budget beginning July 1, but the new money is not slated to be spent on transportation. Mr. Warner's amendment would shift about $19 million from the general fund to the transportation fund. A second amendment would give the governor limited flexibility to designate an additional $50 million for road and transit projects. Mr. Warner says his overall changes in the budget would reduce spending by $3.1 million over the biennium. The governor originally sought an extra $392 million for transportation, but that proposal, as well as a similar transportation initiative from the state Senate, wound up on the cutting-room floor.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Stafford), who led the legislative move to raise new revenue, says he will press again next year for tax changes to pay for transportation. The legislature may not have much stomach for another war over tax increases -- especially in a year when all House seats are up for election. But lawmakers whose home districts sorely need road improvements ought to speak up for moves to raise the necessary funding. A rebounding economy may help, but responsible legislators shouldn't assume that the commonwealth will be awash in cash. The numbers of drivers, registered vehicles, transit riders and daily vehicle miles of travel in Virginia continue to rise. The congestion in this area -- which already is freeze-framing traffic in Northern Virginia -- will not remain solely a regional problem. Before traffic calamities spread dramatically across the state, legislators should recognize the folly of doing nothing.