Business advocates remain concerned about Virginia’s long-term transportation infrastructure following the General Assembly’s legislative session.
Though the legislature did pass a transportation package proposed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III, business groups said the state and especially Northern Virginia needs a sustainable revenue stream for transportation projects.
The session closed March 10, and will reconvene Wednesday for a veto session, where transportation issues may come up again.
Transportation infrastructure is vital for businesses, both to move their goods from one place to another and to keep their workers’ quality of life high, business representatives said. Northern Virginia traffic is in perpetual snarl, with the metropolitan area second only the Los Angeles in terms of congestion.
“The [transportation] package actually ends up being $2.5 billion over six years, most of it not new money but accelerated receipt of federal transportation funds and some borrowing against future revenues,” said Douglas Koelemay, vice president of public affairs for the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
Tracy Baynard, a lobbyist for the Northern Virginia Roundtable, called transportation “the biggest disappointment I think everyone in the business community had.”
On Wednesday, a proposal to fund transportation with proceeds from the state’s portion of car insurance is expected to be considered.
Sandy Bowen, senior vice president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, does thing the legislature has made important steps.
“The General Assembly has begun, and I want to underscore the word begun, the transportation process,” she said.
Business groups also focused on education and work-force training proposals; with unemployment high, they are keeping an eye toward preparing future employees.
Mr. Koelemay was especially encouraged by several technology-education initiatives that passed the Assembly.
“Now, there are new technology competency and curriculum requirements in the standards of learning and standards of quality,” he said.
He added that the legislature created a $26 million fund that will match grants for research and development at universities and help connect researchers with the private sector.
The state will also now put a mathematics and technology seal on high school diplomas, to show students have a concentration in those subjects.
“We sampled some of our companies and they said they would be more interested in hiring students out of high school with that concentration,” Mr. Koelemay said.
Also on the technology front, Virginia became the first state to pass the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, which applies some of the same rules that govern paper contracts to electronic contracts.
Companies like America Online “need the certainty that these contracts are valid and enforceable,” Mr. Koelemay said.
Business advocates stressed that the business climate in Virginia remains favorable.
“Virginia’s still very much a pro-business state,” said James Dyke, chairman of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce.
But he added that a rift is developing in the Assembly between representatives of Northern Virginia and the rest of the state.
Regarding transportation, Ms. Baynard said some legislators blamed Northern Virginia for its own transportation problems because the region had worked to create new jobs.
But Ms. Baynard said Northern Virginia’s prosperity is helping to fuel the state’s economy.
Mr. Koelemay said that rift was partly responsible for blocking more action on transportation funding.
“We do think it was a failure of the rest of the state to realize that you need to invest in the infrastructure to keep the economic engine of Northern Virginia running,” he said.