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A Simple Solution

Let’s stop the arguing and get the transportation issue settled.

The unintended consequences of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s suggested transportation “fix” could well be that nothing happens at all. That would delay needed transportation projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to the detriment of all.

Gov. Kaine seems to have missed the simple transportation fix that was right in front of him.

The state Supreme Court only invalidated the taxes imposed by unelected transportation authorities in Northern Virginia of about $400 million a year and in Hampton Roads of about $200 million annually. Last year’s transportation “victory” by the General Assembly combined new funding of about $1.2 billion along with a $3 billion state bond issue for a total package of $4.2 billion. Only about 14 percent of that total new transportation funding was invalidated by the Court. But it is a critical 14 percent since it has denied Northern Virginia more than $1 million a day in new transportation funds and about $600,000 a day in Hampton Roads.

When the governor changed the final transportation bill and took new taxing authority away from the Boards of Supervisors and City Councils and gave it to unelected regional transportation authorities, he created what ended up to an unconstitutional way to raise funds.

An easy fix would be simply to patch the mistake that the Supreme Court highlighted and give elected local governments the authority to raise the same taxes and fees that the original bill provided. The Court said this would work.

But these locally elected governments don’t want that responsibility. That is why Fairfax Chairman Gerry Connelly urged the governor to change the bill a year ago. That unwillingness to take a leadership role to resolve the transportation congestion nightmare puts Chairman Connolly at the top of the list of those who caused this problem.
The various constituencies who agreed to have their taxes raised a year ago in order to resolve the congestion mess are still ready today. The General Assembly merely needs to change the current law to give authority to raise the agreed-upon taxes to the local elected governing bodies. If these taxes were approved, money would begin to flow rapidly and congestion relief could be seen within a year.

This simple and rational way to resolve the transportation problem would mean the special session would only last a couple of hours. The governor could sign the bill the same day and transportation funds would flow in the matter of weeks.

If our elected “leaders” at the state and local level refuse to take the responsibility of voting on a transportation solution, then let the citizens vote this fall.

I don’t like government by referendum but this transportation stand-off needs to come to an end. This year’s presidential election could find the largest percentage of Americans voting since 1960. Many expect 80 percent or more of the voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to vote this November.  These folks would be happy to also vote on whether to raise taxes to reduce traffic congestion.

Cutting the Gordian Knot of transportation funding is not difficult. But it seems that those who could resolve this issue would rather see this tiresome battle continue and the finger pointing go on and on. Will the voters remember those who stand in the way of a solution when they vote next year? Time will tell.

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