James Atticus Bowden has a terrific op-ed excoriating HB 6055, which is the Dave Albo initiative to re-brand the Republican Party as the party of higher taxes and wasteful spending. This isn’t the first time that Albo reflexively jumped at the idea of regional tax authorities and higher taxes — in 2006, Albo advocated for something rather similar to HB 6055 along with then-Delegate Michele McQuigg which called for regional tax authorities funded with tax and fee increases. This time around Albo, Delegate Jack Rust and Delegate Tim Hugo all are pushing for this same idea again despite serious flaws in the proposals and the fact that Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads voters both rejected the idea of regional transportation authorities funded by tax hikes by solid margins before. To say I’m unimpressed with this idea is a huge understatement, and Bowden does a great job of explaining why:
HB 6055 is the son of Frankenstein (HB 3202) that was ruled Un-Constitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court. The arrogance of trying to stuff this bill and its Regional Government down the throats of voters – again – reveals much of what is wrong in the elected caucus of the Republican Party of Virginia. The Regional Government scam reveals the rot of political corruption like a surgeon cutting away the sores to show the cancer.
HB 6055 puts billions of dollars in the hands of the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) The con the Republican bill HB 6055 is running skips putting the money in the Un-Constitutional Hampton Roads Transit Authority but shoves it at the MPO. The MPO, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, and the Hampton Roads Transit Authority are the same people. They meet at the same time. The Republican shell game moves the new, higher taxes to the State Treasury in Richmond (as our Constitution requires) which dumps the money in a new holding account (professional thieves would use an off-shore bank), which sends the money to the MPO.
The MPO then manages the regional transportation projects for Hampton Roads/Tidewater. Unfortunately, the HR MPO has been cited as one of the worst functioning (meaning operating contrary to public law) MPOs in the Nation. The MPO is made up of appointed politicians representing the cities and counties and 4 big project advocacy representatives. HB 6055 adds more politicians.
These appointed officials will spend more than $30b. There is no oversight. No checks and balances. No separation of powers among the same body raising tolls, taking tolls, and spending tolls. That is taxation without representation – again.
The decision on what to build was made back in 1997. The construction of every project actually INCREASES congestion after completion. HB 6055 adds improvements to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT), which would reduce congestion. But the HRBT isn’t on the MPO list nor Is it established in funding priority in HB 6055. It’s a fig leaf.
So, why do Republicans insist on creating the Regional Government in HB 6055 (the MPO now, not the HRTA) ?
It’s all about the money. $30 to 35 billion is too much to pass up.
The appointed officials on the Regional Government aren’t engineers. They aren’t executives who have managed billion dollar programs for profit-earning corporations. They bring absolutely no expertise – except how to spend other people’s money on pet projects – to improve transportation.
So, the logic of HB 6055 is to give $35 billion dollars to politicians to hand out in contracts. The Un-Constitutional HRTA has already spent $200k. The first $50k went to Kaufmann and Canoles for legal services. Republican State Senator Ken Stolle is a partner with Kaufmann and Canoles. You can smell the rot even if you can’t see it yet.
Since the politicians of the MPO have no clue how to manage major engineering projects they will have to hire help. This is where you can see the pus oozing.
These politicians will have hundreds of millions of dollars from year one to hire staff, rent offices or build them, hire transportation, more legal services, pay for meals, run executive off-sites, conduct ad campaigns to re-educate the public, put in the latest IT equipment, provide security, hire lobbyists, conduct environmental studies, and, above all, pay six figure salaries to retired and failed politician friends as ‘consultants’.
Eventually, huge contracts for the actual engineering will be awarded without accountability oversight or checks and balances or adjudication for disputes.
The people who will make millions to billions in government contracts can afford to give tens of thousands of dollars to the politicians, or their friends or family or some other middle man. But, the corruption will be done the genteel Virginia way. No bags of money will change hands. Just the right folks will get the contracts. And there will be a lot of consultants – just the right folks again.
English-speaking People have built roads, ports, canals, bridges, ferries, railroads, airports, tunnels and subways in Virginia without Regional Governments for 400 years.
The People voted against Regional Governments with taxing authority in 1998.
The People rejected Regional Government, the projects and the taxes like HB 6055 in 2002 over 2:1. Polls indicate The People in Tidewater are against it about 3:1 today.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled the Regional Government (HB 3202) Un-Constitutional in 2008.
There is no Constitutional, legal, technical, engineering, financial, moral, ethical or principled reason to have a Regional Government involved in building these big projects for HR/Tidewater. None.
Yet, Republicans are going to try it again. This pursuit of political power to control money and power is not a unique Republican condition. It is the way of the world. But, our Virginia Constitution is designed as a bulwark against such tyranny and thievery. Our Constitution distributes powers, authority and accountability appropriately - with no Regional Governments. However, it takes a vigilant public – and a press to do their duty to report news instead of shilling – to hold Virginia’s politicians accountable.
It can be done. Ask my former Senator Marty Williams. It’s really a hard, painful, distasteful, disruptive fight within the Party.
The fact that this fight has to be fought within the Republican Party of Virginia exposes the source of the rot. Only a few Republican politicians can be counted on to represent The People in Hampton Roads/Tidewater – and vote ‘No’ reflexively to HB 6055. No to Regional Government because The People know it is a corrupt scam.
Few Republicans will vote Conservatively on their own. This is without mentioning the illogic and burden of new and higher local taxes, regressive taxes and taxes unrelated to transportation vs. the Republican Creed of Virginia. Or, the absence of project priorities to fund as you go.
Now, the elected Republicans will listen for voices to vote for HB 6055 and Regional Government between now and 9 July. Will they hear the special interests who will contribute thousands to politicians and gain millions in government spending or The People of Virginia? It depends on who speaks up.
Who needs tax-hikers like John Chichester and Russ Potts when we’ve got folks like Dave Albo around to do the same thing?
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