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Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and House Majority Caucus Chairman Samuel A. “Sam” Nixon, Jr. (R-Chesterfield) today highlighted the many legislative successes so far by members of the Republican Majority Caucus through the halfway point of the 2010 Session of the Virginia General Assembly. The announcement comes at the 2010 session’s midway mark, commonly referred to as “crossover.” By that date, which this year fell on February 16, each house must have acted on the bills filed by its respective members.
“As Virginians struggle in today’s economy, state government must address their needs without burdening them with additional job-killing taxes and burdensome requirements,” said Speaker Howell. “Since the House of Delegate’s defeated Governor Kaine’s $1 billion per year statewide income tax plan by a unanimous and bipartisan vote of 97-0 at the beginning of this Session, House Republicans have aggressively pursued fiscally responsible legislation to create jobs and opportunities for Virginians, reform government to deliver services more efficiently and transparently and address other challenges. I’m delighted that our strong Majority Caucus has produced real results with the support of Democrats and Independents which has enabled us to achieve House passage of scores of positive reforms.”
“Offering practical solutions to Virginia’s challenges is a hallmark of House Republican leadership in the General Assembly,” said Chairman Nixon. “With our citizens and Commonwealth confronting the most difficult economic environment in decades, it is essential to build and expand upon our many accomplishments. The overwhelming bipartisan support for many items on our agenda underscores the ability of Republicans to govern effectively and respond appropriately to the concerns of Virginians.”
Virginia GOP lawmakers call for inquiry of HRBT jam
Several Republican legislators are calling for an independent study of the July 2 flooding of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which crippled traffic throughout the region.
Del. Phillip Hamilton of Newport News said Tuesday that he isn't confident an investigation by state transportation officials is enough to fully examine the incident.
So, along with fellow Newport News Republican Del. Glenn Oder, Hamilton is calling for an inquiry by a legislative panel that focuses on transportation issues.
"This is something that should be done," said Hamilton, who has been a vocal critic of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
That request has the backing of several GOP legislators, including House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, and perhaps most importantly, Del. Joe May, a Northern Virginia Republican who chairs the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability.
May said he plans to ask Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer to appear before the commission at its Aug. 18 meeting.
"This is one of those topics that is of sufficient importance that it shouldn't go unexamined," May said, adding that he worries that "if we had a major hurricane, we could find people afloat."
Depending on what legislators are told at that session, May said he might ask the state's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission staff to launch its own inquiry into conditions at the 52-year-old structure.
Homer declined to comment Tuesday.
Last week, state transportation officials said a water main break caused millions of gallons of water to leak underneath the tunnel roadway for several hours before it finally spilled onto the road and was detected.
During a public meeting Friday in Chesapeake, VDOT representatives said initial repairs had been made. They also pledged to finish a detailed public investigation in the coming weeks.
Despite that commitment, some legislators think HRBT is such a critical thoroughfare it needs outside inspection.
"Given the impact it had on the community, a second set of eyes looking at this is a good idea," said state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. "Let's go through the tunnel, figure out what's wrong with it, figure out what it costs to repair it and then figure out how we're going to do that."
Homer has said that the problem is not a shortage of money for tunnel maintenance.
But any conversation about state transportation needs ultimately circles back to the inability of state lawmakers to agree on how to raise money to fix old roads, bridges and tunnels and build news ones. That impasse has festered in the General Assembly for much of this decade. It remains a sore subject between Democrats and Republicans.
"I'm not at all interested in placing blame. That's not where my head is. My head is to do something to make it better," said state Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk.
Miller, the Hampton Roads member of the transportation accountability panel, declined to take a position on whether another inquiry is warranted but warned against taking action that distracts VDOT from its core mission.
Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13th) has sent a letter to Congressman Frank Wolf asking him to request legislation to enable Virginia rest areas to have private restaurants, gas stations and other convenience operations to enable rest areas to remain open.
Letter from Delegate Marshall to Representative Wolf
July 14, 2009
The Honorable Frank Wolf
U.S. House of Representatives
241 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Wolf:
I would like to request that you consider introducing an amendment to the Transportation Appropriations Bill to suspend the federal law for one year which prohibits Virginia and other states from contracting with private restaurants or gas stations to operate at state owned rest stops on Interstates.
You may be aware that many of Virginia's rest stops and welcome centers will close July 21, 2009, because of "budgetary restraints". I believe that the $8.6 million in needed funding to keep these rest stops open could have been found, but since that did not happen I am trying to find other ways keep Virginia rest stops open (or allow them to reopen as soon as possible).
Rest stops are an important part of Virginia's transportation infrastructure and their closing will likely affect Virginia’s tourism industry in a negative way. It will also mean the loss of jobs for many people who work at these rest stops. In these difficult economic times we cannot afford for this to happen.
The closing of the rest stops is also a problem from a safety perspective as they are one of a very few places that people can pull over to rest when drowsy. In fact Virginia rest stops are formally known as “Safety Rest Stops”.
There are a number of states (including Maryland and Pennsylvania) which were grandfathered when the Federal law prohibiting this sort of public/private partnership passed and still have rest stops with restaurants and gas stations attached. I believe these partnerships have worked well.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this request. If you have any questions or concerns please contact me at (703) 853-4213 or email@example.com.
In an OpEd in the Washington Post Speaker Howell explains how Virginia Republicans have kept their promises to voters on transportation, while Governor Kaine and other Virginia Democrats have failed to do the same.
From the Washington Post, June 21, 2009
Virginia Republicans Kept Their Promises on Transportation
In a commentary on this page last week, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine attempted to tag Republicans in the House of Delegates with sole responsibility for every failing of Virginia's transportation system ["Virginia's Unbuilt Road to Progress," June 14]. In his view, credit for all progress on transportation belongs to his administration and the federal government under President Obama. Although the partisan hard-liners Mr. Kaine serves as Democratic National Committee chairman might concur with this distortion, an objective review of the facts tells a different story.
As a candidate for governor, Tim Kaine promised not to raise taxes, to enact major changes to land-use planning to help reduce congestion and to protect dollars dedicated for the Transportation Trust Fund. Mr. Kaine broke the first promise six days after taking office by unveiling a transportation plan funded by a massive tax increase. He kept the second largely because of the persistence of House Republicans. Frustratingly, he might have kept the third promise had he spent an ounce of political capital in garnering support among Democratic legislators, who have steadfastly refused to act.
Mr. Kaine professes his commitment to transportation, but Virginia was the very last state to apply for federal stimulus dollars ["Va. Is Last State to Request Stimulus Funds for Roads," Metro, June 17]. While Mr. Kaine repeatedly has turned transportation into a wedge issue for partisan advantage, many of the improvements made this decade can be traced directly to the leadership of House Republicans.
First, long-overdue changes linking transportation decisions to land-use planning were integral parts of House Republican transportation packages during the 2006 regular and special sessions and were enacted into law in 2007. These changes include transportation impact fees, urban development areas and greater local control of road projects and maintenance. While Mr. Kaine talked about similar changes in 2005, he never made them the centerpiece of his transportation packages and instead focused predominantly on a job-killing mix of tax increases.
Second, public-private partnerships for transportation -- which Mr. Kaine now heralds -- are possible because of the landmark Public-Private Transportation Act, sponsored by Republicans. Such partnerships have been an integral component of every House Republican transportation package this decade. More recently, our initiatives to expand tolling concessions such as market-based high-occupancy toll lanes have been blocked by Mr. Kaine and his Democratic allies. Their acknowledged reason for rejecting such reforms: They did not include broad-based tax increases.
Third, in 2005, it was House Republicans who introduced a $1 billion transportation funding package as part of the 2004-06 state budget, with $850 million of that proposal ending up in that year's final spending blueprint at our insistence. Also that year, House Republicans introduced and led the General Assembly to pass legislation dedicating an ongoing source of revenue to support rail improvements for the first time in Virginia history.
Fourth, in 2007, it was House Republicans who enacted a number of the transportation initiatives we had been promoting for years. As a result, next year Virginia will issue more than $550 million for transportation projects from the $3 billion in bonds the General Assembly authorized in 2007. The road, rail and transit improvements -- for which Mr. Kaine now takes full credit -- can be directly traced to these Republican initiatives.
Fifth, this year it was Republicans who stood alone in advancing new transportation funding. Our plan, allowing Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to retain a portion of revenue from economic growth for regional transportation improvements, was summarily rejected by Democrats in the state Senate.
Finally, when Gov. Kaine called a special session in 2008 to consider his final transportation tax plan, not a single member of the Democrat-majority Senate would even introduce it. And when delegates were given an opportunity to vote for his plan, it failed to receive a single vote. Not one Democratic legislator voted for Gov. Kaine's last transportation tax plan, the sole reason for which he had called the special session.
This November Virginians will elect a new governor. We should all hope that their choice is not wedded to the one-note mantra of higher taxes but is instead open to comprehensive and innovative solutions, like the ones once promised -- but not delivered -- by his predecessor.
Recognizing the importance of improving Virginia’s transportation system to help stimulate economic recovery and restore economic prosperity across the Commonwealth, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Delegates G. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News), David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) and Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News) today detailed an innovative, reform-oriented, and economic growth-drive transportation package that will create jobs, ease congestion and improve safety without raising taxes.
Highlights of the 2009 House Republican Transportation package include:
• Accelerates the issuing of $570 billion in funding authorized by the Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act of 2007;
• Increases future transportation funding for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads by dedicating a portion of growth in existing revenue sources;
• Improves the Public Pri
vate Transportation Act of 1995, providing a streamlined process to expedite eligible projects, including the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel; and
• Constitutionally secures the Transportation Trust Fund.
Major provisions of the legislative package are included in House Bill 1579 that expands a similar plan approved by the House of Delegates during last year’s special session on transportation. Other key components of this year’s transportation package are House Bill 2066, House Bill 2079, and House Joint Resolution 620.
“In proposing this practical solution to the transportation challenges of Virginia’s most congested regions, House Republicans are again demonstrating their commitment to improving our transportation infrastructure,” said Speaker Howell. “Combined with the ability to issue $570 million in bonds authorized as part of the $3 billion package I patroned in 2007, this package positions Virginia to make significant progress in delivering a 21st century network of roads, rail and transit. This transportation infrastructure funding plan, in partnership with efforts on the federal level and through the private sector, will stimulate our economy, create jobs and enhance mobility across the Commonwealth.”
In 2007, the General Assembly passed and Governor Kaine signed Speaker Howell’s House Bill 3202, which dedicated new and existing revenue for statewide transportation needs, implemented overdue VDOT reforms, granted expanded tools for localities to combat sprawl and, for the first time, tied land use and transportation decisions. Part of that landmark legislation authorized the issuance of $3 billion in bonds to highway, rail and transit projects. With the successful resolution of legal challenges and the conclusion of prior debt obligations, the first issuance of $570 million is on schedule to be released during Fiscal Year 2010 which begins July 1, 2009. The infusion of these funds will jump-start transportation projects across Virginia, improving transportation and providing economic stimulus.
House Bill 1579, patroned by Delegate Oder, dedicates a portion of future revenue growth from economic activity in regions of the Commonwealth with major import and export activity to regional transportation projects. Specifically, the plan calls for:
• 30% of future growth from the corporate and individual income taxes and sales and use tax in Planning District 8 to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to fund important regional road, rail and transit projects. The plan allows for the generation of up to $600 million annually in new funding for regional transportation initiatives.
• 30% of future growth from revenues generated by the economic engine of the ports in Hampton Roads for local and regional projects determined by the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization. The plan allows for the generation of up to $300 million annually in new funding for regional transportation items.
• 30% of future growth from revenues generated by existing and future ports in Front Royal, Richmond and Ellison. The plan allows for the generation of up to $50 million annually for Staunton, Richmond, and Salem VDOT Districts, respectively, for transportation projects selected by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“Like businesses, Virginia needs to prudently reinvest in capital infrastructure projects to ensure long-term economic growth,” noted Delegate Oder, Vice-Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and patron of House Joint Resolution 620 to lock up the Transportation Trust Fund from raids for non-transportation purposes. “House Republicans are offering the only solution this session that utilizes this responsible approach to addressing our transportation challenges. As our economic engines in the Commonwealth expand and grow, as we anticipate with our ports and business activity, our most congested regions should be able to capture a portion of that future revenue to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain and maximize ongoing economic prosperity. And, Virginians should be confident that funds intended for transportation improvements are exclusively reserved for that purpose.”
“Our plan allows areas like mine in Northern Virginia to keep a piece of the money generated here to stay here to help solve our transportation problems,” remarked Delegate Albo, a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. “Families in my district are stuck in traffic every day and business cannot move goods and services in a timely manner. This plan would directly address those issues by reducing congestion, increasing safety, and creating jobs. I am hopeful that all delegates and senators representing congested regions and beyond will vote for this common-sense transportation solution that allows us to reinvest in our infrastructure.”
Delegate Hamilton’s legislation, House Bill 2066, streamlines and improves the provisions of the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995. The bill would result in an increased number of opportunities for public-private transportation projects in Virginia as well as hasten the process of bringing those projects to fruition. Delegate Hamilton’s bill and Delegate Oder’s House Bill 2079 include provisions to expedite improvements and expansion of two projects critical to Hampton Roads, the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/MLK Extension project and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.
“House Republicans understand the need for practical and viable solutions to address Virginia's transportation problems,” concluded Delegate Hamilton. “Utilizing future tax revenues generated from economic growth, improving efficiencies that encourage public-private partnerships, and protecting transportation funding for transportation-only uses are common sense initiatives that distinguish us from the failed tax and spend and inefficient policies of the past."