Missing: Legislative Seriousness and Vision

It occurs to me that our legislature is taking the easy way out with this transportation funding act, and that cuts equally for the GOP plan that passed, the Chichester plan that did not pass, and the non-Democratic plan that was never offered…and they are not doing that well.

They are all operating on an assumption that the state can buy its way to an easier transportation/Access/Mobility (hereafter TrAMob)  solution.  I think this is the easy way out, and that neither side is really interested in finding a TRAMOB solution.  All they see is an issue that either enhances or diminishes their chances of being the majority party.

Why do I say this?  Because it seems that not only do the two parties have any idea where they want the Commonwealth to end up, they have no interest in determining where we are. 

Throughout the multi-session rigamarole about transportation funding, there is one item missing from the discussions.  Rather, it has been missing from the public face of the discussion.  If someone has a hyperlink, send it to me…because it is truly the missing link in the chain that holds the package together.

The recent debate and vote on the GOP transportation plan suggests that the General Assembly is divided into the following groups:

A) Those who think the state needs to raise more money to fund transportation, and want to make this happen through some type of dedicated source of revenue like higher gasoline taxes or applying the sales tax to gasoline. Note-in the context of this conversation gasoline refers to diesel fuel, also.
B) Those who think the state needs to raise more money, but want to consider something other than increasing gas taxes of any type.
C) Those who think the state has adequate funds so there is no need to fund transportation.
D) Those who will vote for whatever plan gives them the best shot at being in the majority next year.

Funds are needed to cover the maintenance costs of current roads and to plan and construct future roads, both those that are on the books and those that presumably will be needed in the future…and it is likely that as new roads are built even more money will be needed to keep them maintained.

Kool and the Gang…I’m OK so far.

But what I am missing-and if it is out there, send it to me-is the analysis by either side that shows by at least a preponderance of the evidence that either we need more money or that we don’t need more money.

I am one of those old-time thinking guys who believe that beneath all the fancy finance talk that a budget is a budget…you line up your anticipated expenses on one side, and your likely revenue on the other.  If revenue exceeds expenses, then you have a surplus you put away for a rainy day or for current unanticipated needs…like when WMD #1 becomes addicted to Pokemon cards.  If expenses exceed revenue…then expenses have to be delayed or eliminated, or revenue has to increase.

What is missing in all this are real numbers.  The real numbers stemming from objective analysis that say Virginia needs x amount of dollars over the next five or ten or twenty years to provide the quality of life our citizens want while pulling us out of our current access and mobility morass.

There were no real numbers offered that demonstrate or even suggest that current VDOT management is OK, that money is being well spent, that there is no waste to be eliminated or savings to be realized.

I realize it is logical this study was done.  Circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise.  I think if either the pro-tax, the no-tax, or the gotta survive-tax groups had such a report, they would be trumpeting it from one end of the state to the other.  You see such a report has to bolster one side or the other.  If VDOT is well run, and there is no waste, then the argument for higher taxes becomes more reasonable.  If VDOT is not well run, and there is rampant waste, then the argument for no taxes becomes more palatable.  It cuts favorably one way or the other, and the fact that no one is talking about such a report or analysis argues persuasively that said analysis does not exist.

This unwillingness to determine where we are does not surprise me, as it clearly bookends the failure of either party to elocute its goals and vision.  Republicans and Democrats alike in Richmond are held together by a dislike of the extremes of the other parties,  and not by a shared vision.  I think there is a difference between feverishly caucusing like woodchucks in heat to create a revenue bill for political purposes and seriously offering a TRAMOB revenue plan based on a vision of where a party envisions the state being in x number of years.

Sometimes it seems our folks in Richmond are most serious about that which is least important and completely oblivious to the needs of the commonwealth.

Both parties need to get serious and decide that it is more important to solve the problems of the commonwealth than it is to win their next set of elections. I say this because as far as I can tell neither side has a real vision, so neither side can truly argue for the superiority of their ideas. The GOP doesn’t want to raise revenue, but did so as a campaign expedient. The Democrats want to raise revenue, but they did not have the cajones to offertheir own proposal, instead playing political pinball by hiding behind Chichester’s proposal.

At a time when we need serious people with vision to solve serious problems, we have politicos whose horizon is not the next generation but the next election. They don’t know where we are, they don’t know where they want to lead us, but in between they are going to spend money-we just aren’t sure what for and to what effect.

I derive absolutely no comfort from this realization…and neither should you.

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4 thoughts on “Missing: Legislative Seriousness and Vision

  1. Very well done. May I add “real numbers tied to real projects”.

    The numbers alone don’t tell the story.

    Take Hampton Roads, our beloved Tidewater.

    The current ‘plan’ is pour concrete, pour concrete, pour concrete – to actually INCREASE the congested miles 20 years from now. After all the construction delays, accidents and deaths there will be MORE congested miles.

    If politicians understood the concept of vertical priorities they could say:

    1. Improve 460 corridor for rail and road with ‘3rd’ crossing going south from Port of Virginia to connect (instead of monstrous plan to dump 5000 trucks in the middle of I64 in Hampton). Cost = $4b (?). Pay with profits from Chesapeake Bay Bridge, tolls on I64/460, Port pays X, Y from TTF/GF, Z in bonds

    2.Add tubes and bridges at Hampton Roads bridge tunnel.
    Cost = $2b. Pay with tolls on all bridges across James, X from TTF/GF, Y in bonds

    3. Congestion pricing, tolls, on key roads. + in revenue

    4. More reponse teams, prepostition of equipment for clearing accidents. X from TTF/GF

    5. Private/Public partnership for expanding I-64 or building parallel route from Richmond…etc

    And all of this without the unelected, unaccountable, unseparated powers Regional Government!

  2. Ahhh, the voice of reason. Very refreshing, but very rare on this subject. I should warn you, friend Bwana, that the idea of lining up expenses with revenue sources, conventional as it may seem to persons of unclouded vision, will sound terribly Chischesterian to a great many of our colleagues and may leave you RINO-slimed. but for the life of me, I don’t see the problem with going after this with sharp pencil, paper, and an adding machine (remember those)and figuring out what we can afford. The GOP plan’s biggest drawback is that it’s structural members are largely fear. Fear of the voters if we continue to do nothing, fear of being outed as hypocrites if the revenues are not disguised as fees, debt or penalties, fear of moving beyond two-dimensional slogans in electoral campaigns instead of talking honestly and frankly about what it costs to run a growing and potentially very prosperous state. What you get is mush. A lot of hard-working voters probably won’t have time to figure this out. They have lives to live and contributions to make to the economy. But that’s all the more reason their elected leaders owe them competence, honesty and willingness to tackle tough problems responsibly. That didn’t appear to happen this year in Richmond.

  3. Bwana, I can’t argue with your logic here in calling for hard numbers and rational solutions. Good post.

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