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Senate should fix the road fix
There must be a transportation funding route that doesn’t run over schools.
Friday, February 8, 2013
Virginia needs billions of dollars, quickly, to maintain and improve its long-neglected transportation system. At last, the General Assembly has reached bipartisan agreement at least on that.
Yet Senate Democrats who are balking at proposed solutions are right to resist.
The commonwealth is facing a crisis. It must address festering transportation woes, and with a Republican governor, Virginia has the best opportunity in years to bring along the tax-averse GOP. But Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation initiative would meet the challenge with a funding threat to Virginia’s schools — a cure worse even than the malady. And only a partial cure, at that.
As House and Senate money committees head into budget negotiations, senators should hold firm against Republicans’ continuing designs on the commonwealth’s general fund — the biggest chunk of which now goes to public education — as an alternative to imposing adequate road user fees.
McDonnell wants to eliminate the gas tax and replace that money with an increase in the sales tax rate. But he also would shift existing revenues from income and sales taxes to transportation. That puts the huge costs of building and maintaining roads, bridges and mass transit systems in competition with state support for core services. Not just next year or in the next biennium, but into the future.
This might seem a reasonable trade-off in Northern Virginia, where traffic gridlock hurts the quality of life, while the schools are good. The wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C., can fill out Virginia’s low-ball share of funding for the state’s Standards of Quality with local taxes.
In fact, every one of the commonwealth’s localities finds it necessary to give more local money to schools than required by state formula. But outside the state’s golden crescent, rural Virginia has far fewer dollars to give. It depends more heavily on state support.
McDonnell accused Senate Democrats of being unreasonable Tuesday after they killed two transportation bills that originated in that chamber. “This is a party that says no to everything but higher taxes.”
Democrats should keep saying no to a funding scheme that might make sense politically, but not as public policy. But they also need to offer an alternative that will put transportation on a healthy path.
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