Lawmakers repeat: Transportation bill isn’t perfect
But that's what happens when politicians from both parties venture into the foreign land of compromise – the final product comes with both pleasing is chagrining elements. State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd) joined Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a Republican, as featured speakers Thursday at a Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce program where they touched on the details of the transportation funding initiative, both the good and the bad.
As members of opposing political parties, Howell and Albo symbolized the broad bipartisan votes that advanced the transportation bill, HB 2313, key points of which include bumping the state sales tax .03 percent to 5.3 percent and implementing a 0.7 percent local sales tax for the clogged regions of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Two new fees will also be imposed – $64 annually for a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle and a 4.15 percent vehicle titling tax. A new 15-cent-per-$100 value fee on real estate transactions in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will also be implemented, as well and hotel taxes in these two regions will increase by 2 percent. All of these revenues – and a string of other collections – are estimated to raise approximately $3.5 billion in new transportation dollars in the next five years.
Howell admitted the bill is “very complicated,” but in order to raise adequate funds for Northern Virginia's notoriously congested roads, and to push more money toward Metro's Silver Line extension, legislators had to formulate a multi-faceted plan. While that plan includes new statewide and regional taxes, it also includes chipping in additional general fund money to transportation. Though Democrats have long opposed shifting money away from core services like public transportation, health care and public safety, Howell said, many in her party realized they had to give in if a deal was to be struck.
The Republican Albo said swallowing a string of new taxes was difficult, but conceded it necessary.
“There is not a single tax in the Virginia code that I have ever voted for … I am an anti-tax guy, but I've got to build some roads,” said Albo, who remarked he's gone four roads without being able to get a single road paved in his Springfield-area district.
Albo made oft-repeated remarks that there simply has not been sufficient funds to deal with transportation in past years. For the math to work, new revenues were essential, Albo said.
“This bill we passed isn't my favorite bill. My favorite bill got killed,” Albo said. “ … what we had to do is we had to vote on the bill that's got some parts we like, and some parts we don't like. Most of the stuff we don't like is what Janet [Howell] liked, and vice versa.”
Much of the political pressure and opposition from the Republican side, Albo said, stemmed from the fact the solution wasn't something simple and straightforward that could be included in a bumper sticker.
Connaughton too was a major proponent of HB 2313, as was Gov. Bob McDonnell. The fact transportation reform – whether it passed or went down – will likely to go down as one of McDonnell's key legacy achievements aided the bill's momentum. Connaughton on Thursday reiterated the viewpoint that without implementing new revenues, the states roads and rail infrastructure can't be dealt with.
In essence, Thursday's speakers agreed, 2013 was finally the year a majority of the commonwealth's delegates and senators agreed something must be done to fix transportation, even if that "something" isn't a perfect fix. Albo said the state's business friendliness ranking dropping this year -- primarily because of transportation -- played a role getting the legislation passed.
Of the nine Republicans representing portions of Loudoun County in the General Assembly, five sided with GOP governor – Dels. Tom Rust (R-86th), Jim LeMunyon (R-67th), Tag Greason (R-32nd), Randy Minchew (R-10th) and Joe May (R-33rd) – and four dissented – Sens. Dick Black (R-13th) and Jill Vogel (R-27th) and Dels. David Ramadan (R-87th), Barbara Comstock (R-34th); the two Democrats, Sens. Mark Herring and Barbara Favola, supported it.
Rust, LeMunyon and Minchew attended Thursday's event, which was part of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce's Policymakers Series. Albo and Howell were selected as panelists because they both served as conferees chosen by their respective chambers to hash out the final details of the transportation bill, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce CEO Tony Howard said.