Ladies and gentleman of the House,
This is perhaps the most important vote that I have cast in my eight years here in this chamber.
Many of our constituents are very cynical about politics these days. You hear them all the time. Some of them simply call your office and ask that something be done and they just honestly disagree with your perspective on issues. Others, however, are so wedded to some abstract notion of political purity that unless you do it their way, they don’t want you to do it at all. If you do not conform to their vision, they will toss you out in a New York minute. This kind of attitude breeds gridlock and inaction, and helps explain many of the reasons why we cannot seem to find a way to get anything done in Washington D.C. Our democracy cannot operate that way. Our founding fathers created checks and balances and revered the notion of arguing on principle, and then compromising to get things done. Like the gentleman from Fairfax, I am here to get things done. That is why I choose to support this bill.
Early in the session, a number of us articulated six principles that we thought should underpin a sound transportation plan. Indulge me a minute to discuss how this plan stacks up against those six principles.
- We argued that the plan should raise in excess of 1 billion dollars per year, something which our business communities have said we need to keep the Commonwealth competitive. The plan before us, when the statewide component is coupled with the regional plans, raises between 1.4 and 1.5 billion dollars per year.
- We took the position that any transportation funding should not be based on phantom money that may or may not derive from actions taken in congress. We were concerned about the provisions in the Governor’s bill which relied on the passage of the Marketplace Equity Act to fund almost a third of his package. We felt that we could end up passing a bill which appears to raise more money than it actually would. That is why the Marketplace Equity Act trigger that is found in the conference report is so appealing to many of us on this side of the aisle. With the triggers, we provide options for what happens if the act is never passed. Moreover, some small changes in how the sales tax will be calculated ensures that some monies from the Marketplace Equity Act will go for education, another attraction for us in this package.
- We initially took the position that there should be no diversion of monies to transportation that would otherwise go for education, health, and public safety. This diversion of the General Fund is the most troubling part of this bill, and has given many of us pause about supporting it. Nonetheless, the diversion is actually far less than what the governor originally proposed and is ameliorated somewhat by designations of monies coming from the Marketplace Equity Act for educational spending.
- We took the position that a plan should not just simply fund maintenance, but also construction, rail, and transit. This bill provides substantial maintenance money not just for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, but throughout the Commonwealth. Closing the maintenance shortfall allows construction dollars to flow through the funding formula that benefits all of the Commonwealth, not just the urban crescent, and will provide secondary road funds to localities, many of which have not received them for years. Beyond that, this bill establishes a dedicated revenue source for inter-city passenger rail, something that should be extremely attractive to those of our members who live in the Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke areas. For years, we have sought a dedicated source for inter-city passenger rail and it is here in this bill. Urban areas should also like this bill because of the increased funding for transit. And the construction dollars will create substantial numbers of jobs. For every 1 billion dollars of investment in the construction industry, 35,000 jobs are created.
- We wanted the transportation funds to flow immediately into our communities rather than having to wait five years for them to arrive. That has been addressed in this bill. There is an immediate transfer of monies for transportation and a growing source of revenue over the next five years.
- Finally, we sought flexibility for regions of the Commonwealth who wanted to raise their own money and keep it for the funding of critical projects in their areas. These are the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads packages that many of us have been discussing for weeks. These packages are extremely important not just for the regions but for the Commonwealth as a whole. Several minutes ago, the gentleman from Fairfax stated, in referring to his support for the regional packages, “let me solve my problem.” I maintain that the regional packages do not simply help him solve his problem, but helps all of us solve the Commonwealth’s problem. The economic vitality of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads is critically important to the economic success of the state. About 34 cents of every dollar raised in sales tax in the Commonwealth comes from Northern Virginia. Those monies flow into Richmond and are distributed throughout the state, including school divisions in poorer parts of the Commonwealth. The ports of Hampton Roads are increasingly significant generators of economic activity. If you cannot get your goods to and from the port, you will lose out substantially in your ability to complete economically, both nationally and internationally. As Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads increase their economic activity, the benefits will flow throughout the Commonwealth. But we need these investments to make that happen.
There are things that we do not like in this bill. I do not like some of the funding sources and have never supported reducing the gas tax. But remember what was in the Governor’s bill. In that bill, the gas tax was eliminated and a massive sales tax was substituted in its place. This would have hurt the poorest of our citizens, many of whom don’t even drive automobiles. The gas tax has been partially restored in this bill and the sales tax reduced substantially. In addition, I did not like the tax on hybrid vehicles. I do not believe that we should be penalizing those who purchase vehicles in order to save fuel and reduce emissions. That does not raise a substantial amount of money and I hope it will be removed either by the Governor or in the next session. And, of course, we opposed the General Fund diversion.
Does this bill solve every problem that we have in transportation? No. Does it provide the solution for the next generation? No. But it is a step forward, and it is likely to be the last chance we have for the foreseeable future. It is the best shot we have in the near term. And it is a shot that our constituents want us to take.
Ladies and Gentleman,
There are many fingerprints on this bill. From the conferees, to the gentlewoman from Fairfax, to the various people who worked on the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads packages, their impacts have all been felt.
This is no longer the Governor’s bill. With all due respect Mr. Speaker, this is no longer the Speaker’s bill. With this vote, it is now our bill. And it rises and falls based on what we do today. It rises and falls with us. Here. Today. Now. I urge my colleagues to pass the bill.”
“We speak a lot about responsibility and accountability in this chamber. Today we have the opportunity to make a statement, loudly and clearly, that we not only value those two principles but one that lies at the heart of Mr. Jefferson’s University – the concept of honor. The events of last spring at the University, engineered by the person before us for reappointment, placed the flagship University of the Commonwealth in the type of peril that it has not experienced since its founding in the 1830s by an act of this General Assembly. Ms. Helen Dragas was appointed to the Board in 2008. She came as a rising star, an accomplished business person, someone known for her charitable deeds and as a person who would be a guardian of the University’s Honor System, which the BOV is charged with protecting. She was touted by Democrats as someone who could run for statewide office and win.
Shortly after her appointment to the Board, another female rising star came to the University. That person was Teresa Sullivan and she was celebrated by the Board of Visitors as the person who could take the University to new heights by expanding its academic excellence while tightening an already efficient operation.
Prior to the forced resignation of President Sullivan in early June 2012, there were no rumblings of discontent, no concern evidenced by the Board of Visitors or the faculty, and only strong support from the alumni base that is so critical to the funding of the University. But everything was turned upside down on that Sunday morning when the announcement flashed across the computer screens of thousands of alumni, faculty and students that President Sullivan had resigned. Observers immediately thought the worst. Had the President committed some heinous offense? Had she done something inappropriate? And would we ever know? Almost immediately, Rector Dragas began issuing statements about what she called “existential threats” to the University.
Justifiably concerned, many of us close to the situation probed further. What we found was that the President had done nothing wrong, and when pressed about the so-called existential threats, all the Rector could summon was that the University was not involved in the so-called on-line learning revolution, something we found out later was totally false and that instead – UVA had been a leader in the area for several years. We further found that the forced resignation was done without any prior evaluation with the President, face to face, with a list of items that she needed to correct. In fact, she had received a sterling evaluation from the Board of Visitors just that previous October. Citizens justifiably wanted to know what was happening at our flagship institution. And why so fast?
What is now clear, from evidence and our probing, is that this forced resignation was done without due process by a small group of people who planned it secretly for months. What resulted was exactly the opposite of what they had expected. While they thought the problem would blow over, they ignited a firestorm that engaged Virginia alumni and the educational establishment throughout the country. We also know that right away the Rector hired a PR firm for damage control and asked the University Foundation to pay for it. We know that she asked the student Board member to enlist other students in writing statements – prepared by the PR firm – in favor of the Board actions. We know the cost of this PR firm was over $200,000, $200,000 that was being used to run down the University and justify the actions of the Rector and the Board. The $200,000 spent was not effective. Some argue that it was the faculty that brought Teresa Sullivan back. But it was not—it was the alumni, thousands of them who convinced the Board of the injustice and unfairness of the forced resignation.
In the last month, the campaign to reappoint the Rector has shown itself to be a quiet but effective operation run by powerful individuals in both parties and backed by some influential business leaders from one area of the state. Many of these people we respect. But it is our vote, not theirs, that counts.
There are those that say that we should defer to the wishes of the Governor in appointments. I agree, but deference should not serve as a substitute for our constitutionally described responsibility to evaluate nominees. To do otherwise is to abrogate our responsibility under the Constitution and the law. If we simply should rubber stamp all recommendations of the Governor, why should he even submit them to us in the first place? In point of fact, we rarely overturn the Governor’s recommendations. But if any situation called out for a rejection, this is it. As a gentleman from Augusta said, if the chairman of the Board of a large corporation did anything remotely similar to this, he or she would not be permitted to remain on the Board.
Responsibility and accountability make a difference
“As you can tell, those of us very close to the situation care deeply about what happened last spring. But why should you? Let me tell you why?
You should care because the University of Virginia is the flagship institution of this Commonwealth. As it rises and falls, so does the reputation of all of our schools of higher learning. The University was not always ranked as highly as it is today. It took years of hiring and retaining a faculty to create its present reputation. And that was put at risk.
You should care because your constituents want to send their children and grandchildren to UVa, and maintaining its quality is important to them. Why else would we hear members of this body take the floor each year and speak about the need to create more in-state slots at the University. Why, because they want to give their constituents the opportunity to attend.
You should care because of the 80,000 graduates of the University of Virginia who live in the Commonwealth and are your constituents. They live in each and every one of your districts. You have heard from many of them, and I will guess that of those you’ve heard from, the vast majority disapprove of what happened last spring and have urged you to vote no on this appointment.
You should care because two groups important to the future of the University — faculty and donors — care. Following the events of last spring, giving to the University dropped precipitously. One prominent donor wrote that it was “disgraceful” what happened and she would not give another penny to UVa. Interestingly, last week she just announced a major gift to William and Mary. The University cannot maintain its excellence without these private donations and the actions of last spring put that at risk.
We also know there are twice as many faculty who are at risk of being lost to other institutions, more than any year in the past. Why? Because of what happened last spring.
Finally, you should care about the University’s accreditation, not so much for what it means for its academic reputation (which will do fine) but for what it means in terms of the threat of losing certain federal funding. The reason? Accreditation actions put some three million dollars of federal grant money at risk. Most people are optimistic that these accreditation issues will be fixed, but it again points out to the implications of the reckless actions that were taken last spring.
We should not be involved in micromanaging the University of Virginia but we should be involved in appointing people to the Board who know how to work in a group and understand the importance of due process in making decisions that have such a critical impact on the institution. The other appointments made by the Governor include people who have strong views, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t, but all of these people know how to work in a group to get something done. That is the key element of an effective Board. And I will support them.
These kinds of decisions are always very difficult, because they involve people who we may like personally but with whom we differ either on policy or in how they conduct business. It works that way in this Chamber.
But it is not a question of whether we like the individual or not. We can respect our colleagues and like each other but that does not mean we vote for each other’s bills or vote for each other at the ballot box. It is not a question of likability. It is a question of performance. It is not a question of whether we respect them. It is a question of good governance.
Are the personal problems of last spring over: People say yes. Those of us close to the situation know differently.
So as you vote today, I urge you to think about the future of Jefferson’s University, about those 80,000 alumni, about a faculty who helps generate those great rankings, about a donor base without which we cannot provide that high level of academic excellence. And about responsibility and accountability.
I urge you to vote no.”