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.”