Monday, November 21, 2005

New Political Dynamics in the Transportation Debate

Bob Burke has filed a story about the third meeting of the state Senate task force, known by its acronym of START, that is expected to recommend transportation-related legislation for the 2006 General Assembly. The good news: The group is wrestling with substantive issues. The bad news: It hasn't come anywhere near a consensus, and there's only one more meeting left.

I'd long assumed that Senate Finance Chair John Chichester had set up START to rubber stamp a tax-increase proposal he had waiting in the wings. But that may not be the case. START, chaired by Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham, is looking at a wide range of issues, not simply ginning up a case for a tax hike. Indeed, the issues the group has identified are so overwhelmingly complex that it is difficult to foresee it developing a meaningful set of recommendations in the time remaining.

From my distant vantage point, it seems as if the Senate is in disarray on the transportation issue. Unless the START hearings are nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to deceive the public -- and they don't seem to be -- it's hard to imagine Senate sentiment coalescing unanimously around a straightforward tax-and-build approach to transportation.

If Chichester tries to take the Senate in that direction, he may well encounter opposition. Over the past two years, he could count on support from Senate Democrats because they, like he, were lined up on the same side of the tax debate as Gov. Mark Warner and against the House. But the dynamics will change with Kaine in the Governor's Mansion. Kaine is not seeking a transportation tax increase -- at least not now. His priorities are tackling the transportation-land use connection and putting transportation funds in a lockbox. Senate Democrats may prove more loyal to him than to Chichester.

In a sign of new Democratic assertiveness, Sen. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, spoke forcefully about land use issues in the recent START hearing. Expect to hear more from Senate Democrats in the upcoming debate. If they align tactically with conservative, low-tax Republicans in the Senate on the transportation-tax issue, Chichester may not enjoy the same control over the Senate as in the past few years. He still may be able to mobilize a majority - but not without a fight. That new reality will undercut his negotiating position with the Governor and the House.

The House of Delegates is playing its legislative cards close to the chest, but Speaker William Howell has made clear his opposition to raising taxes to fund transportation. All things considered, the 2006 session is shaping up as a transportation free for all. Given the governor's power to set the agenda and frame the issues, however, Tim Kaine should enjoy the initiative.


At 7:59 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Considering all the contradictory positions, it is hard to imagine them coalescing around anything.

Funding is one example. The suggestions are to phase in new funding. Create sources of funding we can use now. Avoid debt. And use bonds as part of "creative financing".

As far as linking land use and transportation, there is not one suggestion as to how this might happen or what the results would be.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Sen. Hawkins and others deserve credit for their willingness to put every option on the table, and he's been quite insistent that this was no rubber stamp panel. He's also insisted that the panel members collectively had enough creativity to come up with something new and effective.
Who knows what that will be - Hawkins hinted that some of the concepts they're looking at might end up being topics for study for future GA sessions to deal with. But still, it's not unreasonable to think (note my careful wording) that some senator who knows How Things Work will select a concept, turn it into some kind of legislative package, and declare victory. At some point soon, the START group is going to have to get behind something that they can push across the finish line.

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

If the goal is to consider every option on the table, then they are going to need more time and more money.

If the goal is to provide lip service to most of those options and then forge ahead with a preconceived plan based on someones declaration of victory, then there is likely to be trouble.

It would be different if the options were variations on a theme, but many of them are diametrically opposed. Others are stated in a questionable way.

One suggestion was to reverse the incentives for building in scattered areas. It seems to me that such a plan only results in a different form of unfairness, reverse discrimination, if you will. But at the same time they are studying congestion fees, hot lanes, and other pricing mechanisms that will encourage moving out of congested areas and more scattered development.

The recommendations for linking land use and transportation are particularly weak and unfocused.

Then there are disconnected statements like "Nobody wins unless everybody loses", now there is a policy that might be hard to sell.

I don't see this getting fixed in one more meeting.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

A sizable segment of the population of Fairfax County, which overwhelmingly voted for Tim Kaine, is expecting something from the 2006 legislative session that stops the County Board of Supervisors from rezoning property unless and until the infrastructure catches up with the existing population. The expectations are growing weekly such that the Fairfax County delegation is expected to deliver the goods. That dynamic should make interesting watching, especially if some legislators from the County attempt to finesse the issue (i.e., pass a law that appears to provide relief, but lets the Board of Supervisors continue granting rezoning requests).

It would probably take some radical change to the law to transform land use decisions in Fairfax County from a legislative function to a quasi-judicial one that is subject to judicial review on the record.

Sometimes, when one wins an election, one needs to deliver the goods promised or that the voters thought were promised.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

TMT: What infrastructure are you referring to? Aren't there different needs in different areas of the county? Who decides if the infrastructure is inadequate, and what is the basis? Is the same basis used to decide when we need to build new infrastructure?

Fairfax is one of the richest counties in the nation. If they can't afford sufficient infrastructure to permit growth, then what doews that imply will happen everywhere else if such a law is passed?

In a general way, I think you are right, enough is enough in Fairfax, we should declare it finished and be done with it. At the same time, I have a problem with blanket statements like no more rezonings.

It seems like we are stuck in a three-way between the creeping crud of continual construction, terminal gridlock and congestion of all sorts, and some degree of totalitarianism.

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the Times Dispatch Headline

"Kaine Hits the Road for Transit"


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