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The New State Budget Misses the Mark

The new state budget shorts Northern Virginia.

I voted against the final state budget last week because it fails to address our needs and reflects badly-skewed priorities. It was an eventful two days in Richmond.

The Senate budget deadlock centered on new funding to “buy down” tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and in Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is in revolt right now due to a public-private partnership the Governor negotiated for a new tunnel that could cost Portsmouth drivers $1,000 per year.

Several years ago, the Dulles Toll Road was transferred to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which assumed responsibility for the construction of the Silver Line.  Tolls will double next year to over $4.00 per trip. For someone driving five days per week, fifty weeks per year, that totals over $1,000. The High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes on the Beltway will bring more tolls, plus the Governor has plans to bring HOT lanes from Fredericksburg to I-395. 

For  reference, a $0.25 gas tax would cost a person who drives 15,000 miles per year at 25 miles per gallon $150 per year ($0.25 x 15,000 ÷ 25).  A driver who gets 40 miles per gallon(MPG)  would pay $93.75 per year.  The overall U.S. average was 22.6 MPG last year.

The Governor objected to additional Silver Line funds on multiple grounds, but what this dispute really highlights is that there is simply no money.  Virginia’s Transportation Trust Fund is flat broke and the McDonnell Administration and the legislature’s majority leadership are exercising feeble leadership  to solve the problem. 

I supported Senator Toddy Puller and her colleagues who objected to a budget lacking Silver Line funding.  The Silver Line will turbocharge the Northern Virginia economy.  Commercial growth in the Dulles Corridor will generate real estate tax revenues which would take pressure off homeowners in our area.  More importantly, the extension of the Yellow Line in our area will require state participation.  We need to establish the precedent for state involvement in transit funding for the future of our area. The deadlock resolved when Senator Chuck Colgan from Manassas unexpectedly changed his vote.

I voted “no” on the budget for several reasons.

First, in addition to the missing Silver Line funding, the budget shorts Northern Virginia. Over a decade ago, the state added a special supplement called “cost to compete” for Northern Virginia jurisdictions to help fund teacher salaries.  The Governor zeroed this money out. The final budget only partly restored this funding. The budget cut beds at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute.  It raided Fairfax County’s traffic fine revenue which supports law enforcement operations. 

The budget also took $59 million from the National Foreclosure Settlement and diverted it to rural Virginia sewage plants. Most foreclosure victims and damage were in Northern Virginia. I will write more about this soon. 

The  budget funds K-12 education at a lower level than in 2007-2008.  In 2008, the General Assembly appropriated $6.8 billion for direct aid for secondary education.  This year’s budget provides  $5.8 billion, while costs are up and there are more children to educate.

The budget also funds a new $25 million tax credit to individuals and businesses who contribute to scholarships for “low-income families” whose children attend private schools.  The threshold for being “low-income” was set over $70,000 per year. 

Fifteen percent of the 44th District’s residents receive health care from Medicaid.  Eighty-five percent of those  are children.  The rest are mostly elderly.  The  budget cuts Medicaid reimbursements to providers yet again. These costs will be passed along to people with private insurance.

The budget funded numerous tax credits for movie production, bee hives, the coal industry and wineries and maintained tax exemptions for yachts, online hotel booking and oil and gas drilling equipment.  Our state government, like the rest of us, must live within its means, but it also must set the right priorities.  We can do better and I hope to work toward a budget that spreads the benefits and burdens of government spending more fairly throughout our state.

I would appreciate your comments. Please send me an email at scottsurovell@gmail.com.  It is and honor to serve as your delegate. 

john klein April 26, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Dear Scott Surovell: I read your article and I still do not understand how Virginia delegates and Senators can claim that the Commonwealth can possibly afford to build the 2nd phase on the back of commuters using the Dulles Toll Road. If the Construction costs for Phase 2 are $2.8 billion, and the annual maintenance of the Silver Line is approximately $230 million, the "cash cow" or Dulles Toll Road will not generate the $2 Billion promised for construction Phase 2, plus an additional $230 million annually to pay Metro to run and maintain the Silver Line. I read that the Dulles Toll Road currently generates about $100 Million annually from Tolls charged to Virginia travelers who use the road to commute to work daily. It seems pretty obvious to me that the "cash cow" know as the DTR will run out of milk long before the Phase 2 is paid for, and the money needed to operate and maintain the line will have to be supplied by the Virginia Transportation Trust Fund, which as you point out is "flat broke" and likely to remain that way. Then what happens? Respectfully, I ask all of you legislators to put away your credit cards and plan how this great state is going to survive in the future with such mounting debt and shallow financial planning.
Scott Surovell April 27, 2012 at 12:41 PM
John: Thanks for your comment. The entire project is 23 miles. Phase I is 12 miles and funded. It is funded by federal funds (34%), local funding & a special tax district (15%), the Commonwealth (10%) and WMAA/Toll Road monies (41%). Phase II is 11.6 miles and runs from Wiehle Avenue to Ashburn. Most of the legislative debate actually had nothing to do with the project cost. My Republican colleagues main objection was the use of a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) which is used to prevent strikes and work stoppages. The annual maintenance costs will be WMATA's responsibility just as it currently is for the rest of the entire Metro system. The Toll Road was only intended to fund the construction of the line, not the operation. The construction of Phase II is currently expected to cost $2.7 billion. Fairfax County has pledged $490 million (most of which comes from a special tax district). The Commonwealth has currently pledged $150 million. Loudoun County is expected to pay a little over $100 million. The balance is expected to come from WMAA via the Toll Road and toll increases - not the Commonwealth. It is not the state's project. During the session, several of us suggested that the state provide an additional $300 million from either bonds or reallocating unwanted projects elsewhere - e.g. the 460 Bypass. The Governor rejected that. Without additional state funding, tolls will go up much further. Thanks again for your comment.
JoeB90 April 27, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Scott...I think the opposition to the phase II PLA is really an issue of the pro-labor aspects of the PLA in a right to work state. This is a different, mandated PLA than the voluntary PLA used for the phase I project. There also seems to be some confict of interest issues for MWAA board member Dennis and his employer, Laborer’s International Union of North America (LiUNA).
Scott Surovell April 30, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Thanks for the comment Bruce. There's been many different versions of this issue, but PLA's were used to construct the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Phase I on time and on budget. The PLA issue popped up this year and MWAA pulled the requirement then changed their bid scoring to preference a PLA. Senator Petersen wrote a nice summary about the PLA issue here - http://oxroadsouth.com/2011/12/no-money-for-dulles-but-lots-of-free-advice/

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