- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Republican legislative leaders recently passed a comprehensive transportation plan that will generate up to $1.2 billion a year for transportation projects in Virginia if fully implemented. While the Republican transportation plan is not perfect, it deserves a fair hearing and objective consideration.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tim Kaine and Democrats in the General Assembly have unfairly criticized the plan. Their primary criticism centers on the fact that the plan would transfer $172 million a year of existing general fund revenues to the Transportation Trust Fund and use this money to leverage $2.5 billion in bonds for critical highway projects throughout Virginia.

Mr. Kaine and other Democrats, who believe that the only way to meet our transportation challenges is to impose higher taxes on Virginia’s families and businesses, contend that this $172 million transfer will take money away from existing state programs like education, public safety and health care, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The proposed transfers will not take effect until July 1, 2008. As such, they will not impact any existing state spending. No state government program will see a reduction in spending as a result of these transfers.

While these transfers will mean that there will be less general fund revenue in 2008 than would have otherwise been the case, state spending on general fund programs will continue to increase because Virginia’s economy continues to grow.

There are some other facts that Mr. Kaine and the Democrats fail to mention.

They contend that these transfers will take money away from public education, but the Virginia Constitution requires the state to fund the Standards of Quality for public schools. Funding for these standards is adjusted every year to reflect increases in student populations, and these spending increases will continue.

They also contend that these transfers will take money away from health care, but spending on certain health-care programs is also mandatory. For example, Medicaid, the state’s largest health-care program, is a federally mandated program. Medicaid spending will continue to increase as more Virginians become eligible for this program.

Mr. Kaine and those who feel that we cannot use $172 million in existing state revenues to help satisfy our transportation needs also conveniently forget to mention the huge increases in general fund spending that we have seen in recent years.

In the past four years, total general fund spending has increased by $5 billion, an increase of 37 percent or an average increase of more than 9 percent per year.

Spending increases in certain areas of the budget have been even larger. For example, spending on public education, higher education and mental health has increased by 44 percent, while spending on Medicaid has increased by 38 percent. And with a total general fund budget of $17 billion a year, the $172 million that Republicans have proposed using for transportation represents only 1 percent of the total general fund budget.

So, when the governor and Democrats tell you that we cannot use a mere 1 percent of existing general fund revenues for transportation they are wrong. The evidence is clear — the problem in Richmond is not a lack of money, it is a lack of fiscal discipline.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kaine and the Democrats seem to think that public revenues are inexhaustible, and that it is unreasonable to ask government to prioritize spending like families and businesses must do.

In addition, they seem to think that the public’s ability to pay higher taxes is inexhaustible, but it is not. Today, almost 40 percent of the average family’s earnings are confiscated by one level of government or another. That is simply too much.

The people of Virginia want something done to address our transportation needs, but they don’t support the massive tax increases that have been proposed by Mr. Kaine and Democrats in the General Assembly.

The people of Virginia expect us to use existing revenues to meet our transportation needs before we ask them to pay higher taxes. If the Democrats don’t understand that, they will pay a heavy price at the polls this November.

Bill Bolling, a Republican, is lieutenant governor of Virginia.

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