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Last updateMon, 27 Nov 2017 12am

   201411metrocastweb

Richmond offers a lesson in legislating

We have seen so little successful legislating that many of us don’t recognize it when it happens.

Washington, D.C., could head its own chapter in a book on legislating called “…don’t let this happen to you.”

There have also been times when many felt the same way about the General Assembly in Richmond. This has been particularly true when it came to transportation funding. It has been one of the Commonwealth’s biggest legislative headaches.
However, this year, when the assembly adjourned from its two- month session, something had changed. Members of both parties had worked together, crossed party lines and agreed to a compromise.

Make no mistake, the need is great. However, the problem was that Virginia had no stable source of funds for the construction of new roads and transportation systems.

Ten years ago, the Virginia Department of Transportation warned that before too long the money spent to maintain our roads would crowd out money to build new ones. That’s already begun to happen and for a state whose economic growth has been closely tied to the development of its transportation infrastructure, the consequences, over the long term, could be disastrous.

However, even with that pressing need, the gridlock in Richmond seemed impossible to overcome. Over the past several years the legislature, and at least two governors, have tried to break the log jam. All sorts of plans and proposals have been debated, but none managed to make it into legislation.

There was a strong aversion to raising the gas tax, or to setting up a separate capital fund. There was an equally strong opposition to tapping the general fund or raising the sales taxes. However, there remained a feeling that somewhere out there was a formula that would minimize the tax impact while still providing a new source funds for our roads.

This year turned out to be the year. Governor McDonnell decided to go for it and proposed a package that shifted the bill for new road construction from the gas tax to the sales tax.

The projected revenue would be considerable. McDonnell didn’t get exactly what he wanted, but the legislation that emerged still held true to this goal. The retail gas tax goes away, the wholesale tax changes, and the sales tax increases moderately.

Not everyone in the legislature was happy about it. Some of the hard core no-taxers weren’t thrilled with it, but some, sensing the need and realizing this was the best solution they were likely to devise, voted for it. They deserve a lot of credit.

Bill Howell, the Speaker of the House, no friend of raising any taxes, thought this was one situation that warranted compromise. He worked with the Senate, his colleagues in the House, the Governor, and Democrats in both chambers to help craft a solution. It was an impressive effort.

Democrats, for the most part, were for it. Though they would have much rather put the entire burden on the gas tax. Their agreeing to shift it, at least to some degree to the sales tax, was part of the compromise.

However, while some fervent no-taxers voted for the bill, there are those who don’t seem to think that compromise has much to do with legislating. They aren’t happy with the Speaker, with the Republican members who voted for the bill, or with their colleagues in the Senate.

Many left Richmond in a bad mood. Though not in the legislature, the Chairman of the Stafford Board of Supervisors, who is now a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for Governor, has taken up opposition to the new package as a major theme for her campaign.

She is openly criticizing the Governor, Speaker Howell, claiming that they are a part of the Republican establishment which has sold out the party’s historic opposition to taxes. It’s not an impressive performance on her part, and while perhaps pleasing some of the red meat conservatives, it shows a distinct lack of understanding of what it takes to govern at the state level.

However, the bill passed. The future is brighter. A range of needed road and rail projects can now be funded. They will contribute to our economic livelihood and our quality of life. And therein lies the lesson. Compromise is sometimes not pretty, nor does it make everyone happy, but it’s by far the best way for elected officials to do the peoples’ business.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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