How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weekly Column: Governor's Transportation Plan Shortchanges Fairfax County

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on February 10, 2011:

Governor’s Transportation Plan Shortchanges Fairfax County

Last week, I voted against Governor McDonnell’s transportation
plan. I had several concerns.

First, the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates our construction revenue shortfall to be $6-7 billion every year. The Governor’s plan will provide enough money to fund Virginia’s construction needs for about nine months and does nothing – zero -- to fund our rising road maintenance shortfall which results in the potholes you see on Fort Hunt Road, deteriorating sidewalks, and crumbling bridges. As it stands, the plan is a band-aid on a hemorrhage. We should be focusing on long-term solutions, reliable funding sources instead of minor patches that give the public an impression that we are solving this problem.

Second, the plan is almost entirely debt spending. The largest component of the plan is $4.3 billion in debt. The project schedule given out by the Governor included only $540,000 or 0.02% for the 44th District (U.S. 1). Only 6.65% of the projects are in Fairfax County although we have 13.5% of the State population and 75% of its traffic. This is unacceptable.

To engage in this debt spending, the Governor had to convince the state’s Debt Capacity Advisory Committee to change its long-standing debt limit formula so that the state would be legally permitted to borrow more money. Additionally, historically, state debt has primarily been used to support higher education, not roads which are normally funded with cash. If $4.3 billion in new bonds are issued, there will be no remaining debt capacity to issue bonds to expand Virginia’s colleges and universities for the foreseeable future. I have serious reservations about sacrificing the expansion of our struggling higher education system that is already rejecting over-qualified students because of the schools’ limited capacity.

The second component of the Governor’s plan was a “Transportation Infrastructure Bank.” This “bank” was entirely funded with General Fund money – revenues now used to support schools, health care for the poor and disabled and public safety – which would then used to pay the debt service on even more bonds. The General Fund is already out of money. Adding new obligations to it and taking funds away from other legitimate needs is not realistic.

The Governor is also proposing to use GARVEE bonds, more debt secured by future toll revenues. The federal government pays the interest on the bonds, but the new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has indicated that they would like to eliminate the GARVEE program to help shrink the federal deficit.

The Senate has amended the Governor’s transportation plan and a compromise will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. I will evaluate the new bill when it emerges, but given the starting point, it is highly unlikely that anything will emerge this session that provides any relief to my constituents, the U.S. 1 corridor and Northern Virginia’s schlerotic transportation system. Stay tuned.

The House and Senate proposed their budget amendments this week. The Senate included language to fund the U.S. 1 Transit Study. The House bill did not. Senator Toddy Puller and I will work hard to see that this language is included in the final budget at the end of the session.

The House of Delegates also approved two of my bills and sent them to the Senate. The House also passed two other bills that I authored but were carried by another delegate, at my request due to filing limits. Five of my bills were also referred for studies. I will write more about these in subsequent columns.

The House of Delegates has also been focused on a slew of social and federal issues. For example, we voted on whether to give criminal and civil immunity to people who shoot people in their homes and numerous bills targeting undocumented immigrants. We passed five resolutions condemning the federal government and we reaffirmed state sovereignty and the importance of the 10th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Most of these bills will likely die in the Senate. I am disappointed that my colleagues are focusing our limited time here on hot button social issues like these instead of improving education, transportation and the economy.

Over 700 households responded to my constituent survey. Please read my blog, The Dixie Pig at scottsurovell.blogspot.com regarding the results. You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at http://www.scottsurovell.org/.

Good government requires your involvement so please be in touch or come visit in Richmond so I can best represent you in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

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