Speaker Howell has released a statement regarding the Comprehensive Transportation Reform and Funding Act of 2007 (aka HB 3202) which should put to rest a lot of the blather and just plain goofiness coming out of the Governor’s office lately on this subject. If Kaine vetoes this legislation, what is within this statement will be used to bludgeon Democrats on this issue during the 2007 election cycle.
RICHMOND, VA – Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) today outlined positive features contained in House Bill 3202, the Comprehensive Transportation Reform and Funding Act of 2007. The Speaker-patroned legislation, which would provide the most significant increase in transportation funding since 1986, was approved by the House of Delegates (64-34) and the Senate of Virginia (21-18) last Saturday. Joined by Senators Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) and Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico), and Delegates Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News) and David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), Speaker Howell described the individual components of the transportation compromise and urged Governor Kaine to approve the bill.
“This bill includes the largest commitment to transportation funding in more than twenty years,” remarked Speaker Howell. “But, it also features innovative, forward-thinking reforms. Combined, these new revenues and overdue innovations will bring dramatic improvements to the quality of life for all our citizens, especially those stuck in traffic jams or on overcrowded roads trying to go to work or get their children to school.”
“Disappointingly, in the days leading to its passage and in the days since, some around Capitol Square and beyond have chosen to mischaracterize the effects of this legislation, downplaying its many potential benefits for the Commonwealth and our citizens. We cannot allow politically convenient rhetoric to squander this opportunity for public policy progress on transportation, which is intertwined with every aspect of our lives. The compromise plan boldly endorsed by both chambers last week represents an unprecedented, collaborative effort to improve Virginia’s roads, railways and public transit systems. In passing House Bill 3202 legislators chose progress over politics. While others have been quick to criticize and dismiss our positive action, they unfortunately have been slow to grasp the importance of ensuring this plan becomes law this year.”
Investing in Virginia’s transportation system requires ongoing, sustainable and reliable funding resources. The bipartisan package approved by the General Assembly is comprised of several existing and new revenue sources dedicated to maintaining and improving the Commonwealth’s network of roads, rail and public transit. Along with increasing the fees on those who use and abuse Virginia’s roads, the plan includes $2.5 billion in transportation bonds to jumpstart key projects throughout the Commonwealth – permitting critical improvements to be completed sooner while gaining a hedge against the rising costs of road construction and maintenance. In order to support the payments on the bonds, this plan prudently dedicates less than one percent of ongoing General Fund revenues, which are expected in Fiscal Year 2008 to total over $17.3 billion.
“If this plan is enacted, I assure you that the sun will still come out tomorrow,” said Senator Stosch. “Every child will still receive an education that meets the Standards of Quality. Every needy Virginian will continue to receive Medicaid assistance at current levels. Police protection will continue without any interruption. In spite of the hand-wringing by the opponents of this plan, the fact is core services will remain fully funded.”
“Asking that less than one cent of every dollar taxpayers send to Richmond be used to fix our transportation system is neither irrational nor fiscally irresponsible,” declared Delegate Hamilton. “The assertion that we haven’t been designating General Fund revenues to transportation for decades is just flat-out wrong. Revenues thought of as General Fund – like sales taxes and recordation taxes – have been used for transportation since long before either Speaker Howell or I became part of the majority.
“While we’ve been putting those revenues toward transportation, we’ve simultaneously made significant investments into all core services of government. In the amendments alone to the current 2006-2008 state budget that were unanimously adopted by the House and Senate last week, K-12 spending increased 17%, higher education increased 23%, health care increased 19%, public safety increased 17%, and funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay increased a whopping 52%. All of these core services have been receiving substantial funding increases while General Fund revenues also have been going to transportation, which everyone here considers a core service. House Bill 3202 isn’t going to change that.”
With significant portions of the statewide funding flowing into maintenance as well as through the traditional Transportation Trust Fund construction formula, every region of Virginia stands to greatly benefit from the additional investment included in House Bill 3202. Acknowledging that Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads face unique and serious transportation challenges, the regional components of the legislation allow local governments there to raise and retain the additional funding required to address their specific needs.
“The approach of allowing localities to raise and retain transportation funding is the only way my constituents can be sure the money they pay will be used for their benefit in Northern Virginia,” said Delegate Albo. “When Tom Rust and I began discussing this plan over eighteen months ago with area legislators, business leaders and local officials, the number one requirement was that any money raised by Northern Virginians could never be touched by Richmond. Because it requires local enactment of its revenue provisions, this plan has those assurances, allowing our region to raise and retain – and control – the moneys we have to have to get us out of gridlock.”
The compromise transportation plan approved by the General Assembly on February 24 was fashioned by lawmakers in both chambers throughout the entire 2007 session. The product of discussions that were initiated following the 2006 Special Session on transportation, Republican legislators initially unveiled their compromise transportation plan on January 18, 2007. Comprising selected elements featured in various plans advanced in the House, the Senate, or both, the bill won bipartisan approval in the House of Delegates on February 6. Ultimately placed in a committee of conference, a bipartisan group of six senators and six delegates recommended a final version of the legislation for approval. It is the only comprehensive transportation bill to successfully emerge this session, and is now awaiting action by Governor Timothy M. Kaine. The Governor has indicated his desire to alter or veto the bill, but has yet to specify any proposed amendment.
“Everyone has had to give a little – and sometimes a lot – to achieve this compromise,” observed Senator Stolle. “One of the mischaracterizations being promoted about this plan is the incorrect claim that it was cobbled together in secret, at the last minute and foisted upon an unsuspecting General Assembly. But anyone listening to the points of the debate in either house last Saturday heard the same arguments they’ve been hearing for months now. This legislation might have received some fine tuning in conference, but it definitely did not have an extreme makeover. What the conferees did was to take the constructive critiques we heard about certain provisions earlier in the session and address them in the final bill. That’s something not to be castigated, but celebrated, because that’s the way the legislative process is supposed to work. The bill we approved Saturday is sound legislation, and when enacted it will have a dramatic and very beneficial effect on Virginia’s most urgent challenge, transportation.”
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