The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Monday, June 26, 2006

State lawmakers to head back to table on transportation issues; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Don’t look for a broken record when Virginia legislators go back to Richmond to talk about transportation later this year. But it’s a safe bet that a few of the songs will be golden oldies.

Legislators are due back in Richmond on Wednesday to complete their work on this year’s budget by acting on line-item vetoes and recommendations from Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Final details haven’t been worked out, but both the GOP-led House of Delegates and Senate expect to be back again in September to talk about roads, rails and revenue.

Local GOP delegates say they’re still working on their play book.

“Where we are as a caucus or a party on that right now I can’t tell you,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, although more local control and no general tax hikes are likely candidates.

“You go just a little bit north of here, and the world changes significantly. [Northern Virginia’s] issues are different from our issues out here,” he said.

As for tax increases, “I don’t think that’s something we’re going to be keen on in September, either,” Gilbert said.

One big item will likely be a long, hard look at the basic structure of the state’s transportation bureaucracy, said Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal.

Legislators need to “look at who should be maintaining our roads,” he said. Some delegates are “not just assuming that it should be the Virginia Department of Transportation.”

Republicans worked during the regular session to shift authority back toward local governments and away from VDOT, which maintains the vast majority of roads in the state.

“Virginia being one of only four states in the country where the state maintains the local feeder system is not something to be jumping up and down about,” Athey said.

One proposal that might come forward would be sending funding and authority for local road maintenance and construction back to cities and counties. That would put decisions about development and roads in the same place — city councils and boards of supervisors.

That’s not to say every county would suddenly have its own highway department, according to Athey.

“If you live in a city or a county that has more than 100,000 people, if we provide you the funding, you’ve got more than enough expertise to build and maintain your own roads,” he said.

Central planning of the road system has not worked, and the system has been showing cracks for a while, “much like the politburo in the Soviet Union,” Athey said. VDOT is made up of “fine, hard working public servants, but the system that they work in leads to mass inefficiency.”

Look for other proposals, including tolls and regional transportation initiatives, he said.

But “I doubt very seriously that it’ll include a statewide tax increase,” Athey said.
Senators would like nothing more than to see a bumper crop of legislation come out of the House of Delegates, said Sen. H. Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester.

“Absolutely,” Potts said. “But that being said … let’s face reality here, take a disciplined leadership stance and know that you have to have new money to fix transportation.”
And the House already has the Senate’s vision of how to fix things, the senator said.

“They’ve got four proposals they haven’t acted on over there yet,” he said.

Potts proposed one of four regional plans that effectively died in a House committee. Each would have allowed local governments to band together and raise some kind of taxes for local projects.

Now that the bitter budget fight is over, the two chambers have to come together and find some compromise, he said.

“I go into this thing with a spirit of goodwill,” Potts said, praising his House colleagues for their service to the commonwealth.

Disagreement “doesn’t make them wrong and me right,” he said. “We’ve got to pull together here now. There’s no silver bullet.”