- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

During my military career, I learned the art of bartering in local market places from Syria to South Korea. It required patience and the ability to see a deal for what it was worth.

So too, the Virginia General Assembly must decide which of the three competing transportation plans to address our transportation issues in the Commonwealth. And there are profound differences between competing plans we will consider in Richmond over the course this coming week.

At stake is whether we will adopt an responsible plan that uses surplus dollars and real reform to address transportation needs, or fall back on the reflexive tax-increase mantra that dominates among some in Virginia’s Senate and the Governor’s Mansion

When Gov. Tim Kaine was a candidate, he stressed his opposition to tax increases for transportation until the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) was constitutionally protected from raids by other spending. In fact, five days prior to the election, Mr. Kaine said: “I’m not going to be in for tax increases because we did it in 2004 and we’re going to have to live within our means.” (Nov. 3, 2005: Tim Kaine on WRVA Radio AM 1140 in Richmond.)

But he promptly submitted a $3 billion tax increase, knowing well we were far from completing the process to constitutionally protect the TTF.

Not to be outdone, the Senate submitted a $4 billion tax boost that exceeds the gargantuan $1.5 billion it passed in 2004. “It worked then, why not again?” they reason. Never mind that we have a $1.4 billion surplus right now. Never mind that the surplus in the last 30 days has been revised upward $163 million dollars by the Kaine administration. Never mind that since 2004, Virginia’s surplus has grown to more than $3 billion, not including recent tax increases. Never mind that people have to sell homes in Northern Virginia because they are priced out of them by soaring property assessments and taxes.

Bottom line: Governor and the Senate want you to pay more while doing nothing to reform the system that spends our money.

But the House of Delegates has a better idea. We introduced our comprehensive transportation plan that: (1) manages growth in a sensible manner, (2) transforms how transportation services are organized, planned and delivered, and (3) makes a major investment by dedicating and sustaining revenue for targeted solutions that actually reduce congestion and increase mobility — without raising taxes.

In regard to growth, we are enacting better land-use reforms as well as improving how localities create comprehensive plans in coordination with VDOT. We are expanding local ability to collect cash proffers from developers to help pay for roads. We are adding to our popular “transportation matching fund” that helps localities build roads faster.

In reforming VDOT, the House plan increases private-public partnerships, provides for more cost-effective and time-saving procurement methods, expedites new technologies to improve traffic capacity, makes dangerous drivers pay for the negative effect they have on traffic and creates more legislative oversight in how VDOT spends our money.

More important, the House plan increases transportation funding by more than $2 billion in the next four years without raising taxes amid major surplus growth. This additional $2 billion builds on the $9 billion we already have in this and the next biennium, bringing our total investment to more than $20 billion in four years. And in Northern Virginia, we have directed $215 million of that $2 billion to a revolving bond fund that will support $673 million in targeted transportation improvements in our region — an idea that incorporates my HB 1436.

The political rhetoric will be intense in the next few weeks. First, you will hear we can’t afford to use debt to finance capital construction. That’s bunk.

By law we must have a balanced budget in Virginia, and do. That said, we aren’t even close to our annually acceptable debt load and we won’t be under the House plan. People who play “Chicken Little” with the debt argument have no problem going into debt for university construction and state parks. Using some debt capacity for roads is neither unprecedented nor bad.

Second, the high-tax lobby will say the House plan doesn’t go far enough. Unfortunately, they fail to comprehend that a low-tax environment creates the actual surpluses we are able to use — now — on this budget’s transportation projects. Low taxes increase revenues by promoting business investment and personal spending.

Third, the high-tax lobby will say the House plan robs rural areas. That may be the biggest distortion of all. In fact, under the House plan transportation funding actually increases in rural areas even while we make record investments in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Fourth, the pro-tax chorus will sing their familiar tune that the House plan threatens other funding like education and health care. Wrong again. The House Budget provides almost $12 billion for K-12 education, an increase of $1.6 billion over current levels. It provides $137 million for Virginia’s research institutions of higher education and $200 million in new funding for the Chesapeake Bay.

Sad to say, the Senate of Virginia is poised not only to kill House reforms, they are setting the stage to drive us, as they did in 2004, into another overtime session until they again reach into your pockets for more taxes.

Mr. Kaine is also threatening to keep the Legislature in Richmond until we raise your taxes, tax increases he said he would not support when he was seeking your vote.

So beware when assessing the plans. Some are based on broken promises. Some are based on breaking your bank. But the House plan recognizes that at a time of record surpluses, government should not ask you for more money when wise reforms and better spending priorities will achieve our purpose.


Mr. Lingamfelter, a retired Army colonel, is a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Prince William and Fauquier Counties. Elected in 2001, he also serves on the House Finance Committee.

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