How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Weekly Column: New Virginia Currency, Crossover, Transportation and the State Budget

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, the Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 12, 2013.

New Virginia Currency, Crossover, Transportation and the State Budget

Last week in the General Assembly we hit “Crossover” on Tuesday – the day that each body must complete all work on their own bills. On Monday, I was in the capitol building from 7:30 a.m. until our session ended around 9:00 p.m.

That day, the House of Delegates passed legislation dedicating $17,440 of taxpayer funds to study the creation of a Virginia currency in case the Federal Reserve System fails. It passed on a mostly party-line vote.
Minutes later, we also passed legislation condemning the United Nations’ Agenda 21 which the U.N. adopted in 1992. The bill describes Agenda 21 as a “radical plan of purported ‘sustainable development’ [that] envisions the American way of life of private property ownership, single-family homes, and individual freedoms as destructive to the environment.”

The same night, the House also passed legislation asserting Virginia’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to counter “the loss of rights and prosperity” occasioned by the Federal Government , according to proponents.

I voted no on these three bills. I hope the legislature will devote attention to more pressing problems, like our transportation, education, expanding healthcare, and preventing gun violence.

The transportation debate continues to percolate. On Tuesday, we passed Governor McDonnell’s plan with some amendments. The legislation repeals the gas tax and replaces it with a 5.8% sales tax on all purchases. A $100 annual hybrid vehicle fee was removed. A major source of revenue in the bill relies on Congress requiring all states to collect sales taxes for internet sales. That legislation has been pending in Congress for 10 years without agreement. The McDonnell legislation barely generates any new revenue and it only passed the House by three votes. The Senate has failed to pass any transportation bills, but senators are engaged in discussions.

I still oppose the Governor’s plan. Decoupling revenue from road use is a radical concept and not justified. Making users pay is fair, in my view. Funding roads exclusively with sales taxes disproportionately burdens the elderly who drive less than others and people who do not own cars. Most importantly, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT),the state’s long-term revenue shortfall is over $100 billion over twenty years or about $5 billion per year. None of the solutions under discussion come anywhere close to meeting that need.

Given that we seem to be addressing this problem on something longer than the cicada cycle, I strongly believe that if we are going to address this, we need to fix it for the next 20 years and not the next five. If we take twenty-seven years to come back to this, I will be sixty-eight years old and my grandchildren will be Waynewood by the time we are back at the table. I strongly believe that if we are going to address the state’s transportation deficits, the solution should be for the next 20 years, not the next five.

My legislation to reform the composition of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) died in the House by two votes after a block from Hampton Roads defected due to problems with the Governor’s overall transportation plan. The CTB decides which projects get funded. Northern Virginia has one seat out of ten even though the Northern Virginia Transportation District has over 20% of the state’s population. When Hampton Roads and Richmond are included the urban-suburban crescent has 65% of the population and 33% of the votes. I have serious reservations about entrusting the CTB with more money until it is reformed.

On Thursday, we passed House amendments to the state budget. While I was pleased that three of my budget amendments were included, the budget still diverts education, public safety and health care funds to transportation. That is unprecedented in Virginia history. It also has funding for several new programs I oppose, including the Governor’s plan to create a centrally-controlled, unaccountable school district for non-performing schools.

If you have feedback or questions, please send me an email at scottsurovell@gmail.com. I welcome your views. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.

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