- Are we making progress in the fight to ease traffic in Northern Virginia?
Yes and no. This year, the General Assembly actually focused more on transportation than on any other issue, which was progress in and of itself. We did get impact fee authority passed, allowing local governments to assess fees on new developments to help pay for the impact those developments have on the public infrastructure. Combine that with my 2006 legislation to require traffic impact studies on any new development, and there has been some good progress on confronting the ill effects of uncontrolled residential growth.
But unfortunately, the progress stopped there. Dedicating dollars to transportation isn’t the only solution, but it is important, and Northern Virginia continues to not get its fair share back from Richmond.
- What is your stance on the Transportation Bill, HB 3202, that was just passed?
I voted no. Every day, families and small businesses have to make tough choices by prioritizing their financial resources. However, the Governor and the General Assembly this year proved once again they can’t do the same thing. In just the four years I’ve been in office, the state budget has grown over 40%. We’ve had years of surplus revenue, and spending is at an all-time high. Yet, year after year, we have failed to make transportation a priority in the budget, and this year was no exception.
This is an election year, though, so “something” had to be done. The need for a real transportation solution got overshadowed by a need for a political solution.
So, we passed HB 3202, so we can say we did something about transportation before November. This massive transportation bill provided only a nominal amount of new transportation dollars to our region (but not necessarily eastern Prince William). It does so through the assessment of new taxes by unelected, unaccountable bodies, and it also has this “abuser fee” scheme integrated into it, among other things. This legislation leaves the same funding formula in tact that only gives Northern Virginia back 27 cents on each transportation dollar we send to Richmond. It is wrong to keep asking our citizens to pay more and more, while getting less and less back.
HB 3202 is a far cry from any solution to our transportation challenges, but rather, it is simply just an election-year fix. Yet, with that bill now enacted, it will likely prevent any real and meaningful transportation solution from moving forward over the next several years in the General Assembly, since “we already ‘fixed’ transportation in 2007” (or so they’ll say).
I don’t believe my constituents elected me to window dress, but to find real remedies to our public challenges, and that’s exactly what I intend to continue to pursue, irrespective of political party.
- The “abuser fees” in HB 3202 have been a hot topic lately. What are your thoughts?
While many of us in the past have supported the concept of penalizing the worst-of-the-worst drivers on our roadways, especially those that put lives at risk, I believe the “abuser fee” provisions enacted by the General Assembly this year are egregious and excessive. Plus, the fact that these fees only apply to drivers holding a Virginia driver’s license is simply unacceptable. It is inexcusable that we would penalize our own citizens more than we would those who we do not represent, or worse, illegal aliens present in Virginia who are guilty of traffic infractions.
That’s why I’ve asked the Governor to call the Legislature back to Richmond immediately for a special session to repeal this law. He has declined.
- Can we fix transportation without raising taxes?
Yes, absolutely. Again, it comes down to simply better prioritization. When I first took office, Virginia was running a $53 billion budget. Earlier this year, we passed a $75 billion budget. If we had used just 10% of that new spending for transportation, we would have been able to dedicate more than double the amount HB 3202 will put towards transportation, but without the massive tax increase, without the abuser fees, and without the unelected and unaccountable taxing authority. I think transportation is at least important enough to get 10% of new spending (if not more).
- How can we better manage out-of-control growth?
We have begun to confront the ill effects of residential growth on our traffic situation, but there is much more left to do. On a positive note, my legislation from last year that now requires the VDOT to provide local governments – and the public – with traffic impact studies prior to the approval of new development has already stopped over 37,000 homes from being built in Northern Virginia alone.
We also need to change the way we do transportation in Virginia.
Virginia is only one of three states in the nation that continues to own and maintain all of its roads (continuing a depression-era policy). Here, the state controls, builds, and maintains all the roads, but the local governments make all the land-use (growth/development) decisions. A large part of the reason we’ve gotten into the transportation mess we’re in is due to that fact.
If the local government makes a decision to build homes along a road that can’t support it, and the state has no plans to widen or otherwise expand that road, it creates a major problem. Even though the local government made the decision to approve those homes, knowing full well that the infrastructure wasn’t in place or coming anytime soon, the local government then complains that the state isn’t meeting its responsibility by expanding the current road that worked fine until the new homes came. The local government makes a decision, but bears no responsibility for the impact that decision has on infrastructure, or other consequences of that decision. There is no way the state could keep up with either building the roads necessary to support all the development that local government approves, or taxing you enough to pay for it all. So, we’ve got to fix this disconnect between the state building/maintaining all the roads, while the local government makes the land-use decisions.
Also, I’ve been working to prohibit developers from giving political donations to those who make growth decisions, such as those in local government, and I’ve been working to make sure that construction doesn’t start on new homes until infrastructure, like roads and schools are in place to handle the demand established by those new homes.