Filed under: General Assembly | Tags: Mark Obenshain, Tim Kaine, Todd Gilbert, Transportation
Area legislators are headed back to Richmond tomorrow in hopes of finally finding a solution to transportation funding. Last year’s package was hailed as a major breakthrough after several years of fighting in the legislature; however, things quickly unraveled once word got out about the fact that only state residents would be paying the abuser driver fees central to the package (though there was some exaggeration about the $3000 speeding ticket; that amount only applied to a particular set of circumstances). The plan further unraveled when the other key part, granting the Regional Transportation Authorities the power of taxation, was struckdown as unconstitutional this winter as the result of a lawsuit brought by Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William (a victory that likely helped him build the coalition that nearly captured him the U.S. Senate Nomination).
So, a number of ideas are floating out there this time around, including a lock box for transportation funds and a plan that would divert all revenue from off-shore oil and gas drilling to state transportation coffers. All the bills submitted so far can be viewed here or the Washington Post has a brief summary of each bill. Perhaps the plan that is drawing the most interest and protest, however, is the Governor’s, which calls for a $10 hike in vehicle registration fees, a 1% hike on the sales tax for new cars and trucks, and regional taxes for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Garren Shipley of the Northern Virginia Daily offers some analysis here and a live-blog of the Governor’s speech (which occured at 1 p.m.).
There are already loud voices lining up against the Governor’s package, including Americans for Prosperity, which is leading down a coalition of local citizens to protest the plan today. At the State Convention AFP already had yard signs ready protesting the Governor, so expect them to take a lead amongst the various non-party groups opposing the package. The Republican Party of Virginia is standing united in both House of the General Assembly, in contrast to the Warner Tax Hike of 2004, with an email that went out this morning:
Legislature back in session. Beware!
This morning, members of the General Assembly are on their way to Richmond to convene in special session. Governor Tim Kaine summoned legislators to the Capitol to once again attempt to force a massive tax increase on hard working Virginia families in the name of increasing funding for transportation.
Of course, transportation is a top priority for many Virginians, but with the state budget increasing by nearly 50% in just the last 5 years; state spending at an all time high; and continued growth in state revenues, government doesn’t need more of your money.
Democrats, led by Kaine, are proposing billions in tax and “fee” increases, including hikes in the gas tax and sales taxes. At a time when working Virginians are facing skyrocketing gas prices, higher food prices, a collapsed housing market, job insecurity and a sluggish economy, now is exactly the wrong time to ask people to pay yet even more.
After all, it was just 4 years ago that Mark Warner broke his campaign promise and stuck Virginians with the largest tax increase in our long 400 year history.
Luckily, General Assembly Republicans are united in opposing these tax hikes. Republican Delegates and Senators are hard at work to constitutionally lock the transportation trust fund; dedicate existing revenues to transportation; implement more public-private partnerships to build and expand roads; and to enact comprehensive reform of VDOT, including auditing the agency and the prioritization of projects based on 21 Century metrics, like eliminating or reducing congestion.
Delegate Todd Gilbert has been determined since the start to keep taxes down, with the Daily News Record writing on Janurary 4th:
The Valley’s legislators oppose Kaine and the Republican-controlled Senate’s position that a new revenue stream must be found to pay for transportation needs. Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, and others interpret that position as a means of raising taxes.
“Transportation is one of the essential functions of government that we have to budget for and pay for,” Gilbert said.
The General Assembly remained deadlocked last year on transportation, even during a special session.
Gilbert, however, saw one silver lining from the standoff.
“I was pleased that we did not once again stick it to the Virginia taxpayer with another round of massive tax increases like we did a few years ago,” said Gilbert, who represents a portion of Rockingham County.
Meanwhile, State Senator Mark Obenshain has supported the lock box concept from the start:
Long-term revenues should come from existing sources, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said, and placed in the trust fund. Obenshain has, like House members, opposed raising taxes to pay for transportation needs.
Obenshain is also unwilling to start up new programs that take money away from transportation spending, where he hopes most of the projected surplus will be earmarked.
He also offered a prediction in this election year, when all 140 General Assembly seats are up for election.
“First things first,” Obenshain said. “If the governor diverts transportation money to new programs, like a statewide mandatory prekindergarten, it will make voters angry.”
Clearly, our area legislators will be fighting for the voices of ordinary citizens through the session, how ever long is should happen to last. However, you can make sure that they and Governor Kaine hear our voice by signing this e-petition on our website.
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