- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Richard C. Cranwell

Throughout the history of our commonwealth, Virginia has honored the tradition of the pay-as-you-go philosophy of government.

But over the past several years, a vocal group of anti-progress Republican legislators has chosen to pay after you go, by maintaining our roads on thin budgets and borrowed money. Instead of dealing with difficult discussions about transportation, these rigid ideologues have repeatedly taken their bat and ball and gone home.

As 81 percent of Northern Virginians sit in traffic on their way to work, Republican leaders won’t even sit down to the table to talk. Just this April, House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, refused to even show up to a meeting with the governor to discuss ways to solve the transportation mess.

Certainly, there’s no silver-bullet solution to Virginia’s transportation challenges, but three simple steps would put us on the right track: acknowledging that the traffic problem is real; proposing solutions; and sitting down with members of the other party to work out a solution all can live with.

The traffic conundrum may be difficult, but the process of resolving it is painstakingly simple: You have to be willing to listen to ideas from across the aisle and have the courage to act.

Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have already brought that sort of bipartisan leadership to Virginia. As governor, Mr. Warner reached across the aisle to invest in rail infrastructure that took the burden off of our roads. Under the Transportation Partnership Act, Virginia created a Rail Enhancement Fund that provides $23 million in annual dedicated funding to improve passenger, commuter and freight rail.

Mr. Warner also worked with Republicans in the House and Senate to pass legislation that reformed VDOT and invested in public transportation to cut down on traffic congestion. By working together, the governor and the General Assembly were able to overhaul a broken agency to start getting projects completed on time and on budget. VDOT’s efficiency improved while its size was reduced from 10,250 employees to 9,100. Under Mr. Warner’s leadership, VDOT’s rate of completing projects on time nearly quadrupled from 21 percent to 82 percent.

Under Mr. Kaine, VDOT has become one of the most efficient transportation systems in the nation. With Mr. Kaine at the helm, nearly 90 percent of VDOT road projects are completed both on time and on budget. Meanwhile, the number of employees and maintenance facilities continues to decrease.

Mr. Kaine has also reached across the aisle to pass landmark legislation that connects land use to transportation planning. This legislation allows local governments to have more information and make better decisions about the traffic impact of development proposals. Mr. Kaine has also made record investments in public transit, dedicating new revenue streams to ensure the systems stay strong into the future.

But while the governor advances forward-thinking proposals, he has been routinely greeted by a group of Republican “leaders” who would rather launch political attacks and play games than deal with the mounting transportation crisis.

Although some Republicans refuse to acknowledge it, the solution to our transportation woes is basic enough that my 8- and 10-year-old can understand it: The legislature has to provide a steady source of funding for our roads. You can’t run a car without gas, and you can’t build roads without money.

There are a number of ways of finding such a funding source, ranging from fees on services to regional sales taxes. Certainly, there’s room for debate on these different proposals, but Republicans have simply refused to have politically challenging discussions that would provide results to the thousands of Virginians who sit in traffic every day.

Instead, Republicans have relied on gimmicks and denied that a statewide transportation crisis even exists. During this summer’s special session, Delegate Phil Hamilton, Newport News Republican and the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed paying for roads with revenue from “future commercial growth” at Virginia’s ports. When asked how much money his plan would raise, he was literally unable to give a figure. Delegate Chris Saxman, Staunton Republican, decided to rely on nonexistent money for his funding idea — royalties from offshore drilling.

Democrats, meanwhile, united around a plan with both a regional and statewide solution that would generate approximately $5.5 billion over seven years - while reducing the sales tax on food. Republicans killed the proposal on the lengthy, game-filled final day of special session, as Mr. Griffith “bounced up and down in his seat and bragged about his clever parliamentary maneuvers,” according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Instead of leading, Republicans have passed the buck. And the next generation of Virginians will pay the price. They will have to deal with the debt incurred by so-called leaders who would rather borrow money for roads than find reliable funding sources. They will have to deal with the loss of jobs and stalling economic engine brought on by our failure to invest in basic infrastructure.

The problem with abandoning pay-as-you-go is that eventually, someone will have to pay. Unless Republicans join us in working on a solution, my children and the next generation of Virginians will be paying the price for years to come for today’s needs.

Richard C. Cranwell is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

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