Thursday, April 27, 2006 :::
The Virginia Senate is again looking for a way out of the current budget stalemate. And increasingly, they are moving in the House's direction:
Senators last night were discussing isolating new taxes for roads and transit from their version of the proposed two-year, $74 billion budget.
That could comfort the tax-hostile House of Delegates, whose leaders have demanded that the budget and a fix for transportation be considered separately.
This makes sense -- get the budget out of the way and then tackle transportation and only transportation later.
Though will even a separate, single-issue session resolve anything? Very hard to say. The Senate is still wedded to taxes of some sort while the House is counting on bonds. Both sides agree on sticking it to "bad drivers," but I'm still very unsure about the long-term usefulness of converting law enforcement officers into revenue agents. However, it is somewhat heartening to me to see that the idea of regional tax authorities to address regional road needs hasn't been abandoned. The problem is how to structure them. Appointed boards that can impose taxes at will just won't work. There is one system I'm familiar with that has worked fairly well - the Denver area's Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. This special district is funded through a voter-approved regional sales tax and administered by a 10 member, appointed board. Voters must periodically reauthorize the District, which gives them at least a degree of direct control. During the District's lifetime, it has helped sustain, create and improve a number of cultural institutions, but still requires them to help themselves. While this is not an exact parallel with Virginia's transportation needs in either scale or scope, it's at least a starting point.
There's also the Denver area's Regional Transportation District, or RTD (or really, "Run Them Down" for anyone who has tried to get out of the way of a Denver bus). The Colorado legislature created RTD in 1969 and funds it out of a regional sales tax, fares, advertising, and other items, including a hefty batch of federal money. It has a board of directors, all of whom are elected. Any proposals RTD may have to raise taxes or create new programs (like the light rail they are currently building in the region) must be approved by voters. It hasn't always been pretty, and there has certainly been room for criticism over the years. But it's done the job, been held largely accountable and is always looking for ways to improve mobility that do not include more miles of blacktop. Again, it's something our own worthies may want to consider...in a special transportation session.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 4/27/2006