Very quietly, Ken Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for governor, released his transportation plan.
With one exception — the creation of a Virginia Congestion Matrix Database so the public can track progress on solving the 100 most important transportation bottlenecks — it is more of the same we’ve seen from many Republicans in Richmond during the past decade. And that makes it a bad deal for the commonwealth, localities who would be harmed, the business community and residents.
At the center of the plan is, once again, the idea of “devolution” — that is, pushing most, if not all, of the highway maintenance responsibilities from the state onto localities.
Devolution entered the political lexicon in Virginia back in 2001 when the General Assembly passed the “Devolution Statute” giving local boards of supervisors the ability to petition the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board to give them the responsibility to oversee their own secondary highway systems. (Cities are responsible for road maintenance, but counties’ roads are built, overseen and maintained by VDOT.)
No county has embraced devolution for one reason: Lack of trust in Richmond to be there with the dollars when push comes to shove. Richmond doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to such matters as unfunded mandates imposed on local governments and schools or reimbursing localities for lost tax revenue as when the General Assembly abolished the so-called car tax in the late 1990s.
According to the summary of the transportation plan (available online at Cuccinelli.com/transportation), one of the “fundamental reasons” for the commonwealth’s being “plagued” with transportation woes for decades is “undeniable lack of decision making and buy-in at the local level.”
We beg to differ.
One of the fundamental reasons for the commonwealth’s transportation woes was the utter inability of the General Assembly, specifically the no-tax wing of the GOP in the House of Delegates, to accept reality and raise revenues for transportation infrastructure problems.
For a quarter-century, the gas tax, the primary source of state dollars for transportation, sat at 17.5 cents, unindexed to inflation. Its purchasing power was cut in half by inflation, and the GOP did nothing — nothing — to address the looming crisis. It wasn’t until this year that Gov. Bob McDonnell managed to cobble together a plan that only just begins to address Virginia’s glaring needs.
And as attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli did his best to sabotage that plan at the last minute. Now he wants to “devolve” the responsibilities of the state upon localities, all “without imposing a statewide tax increase”?
Pardon us if we don’t buy this line yet again.
Adapted from the Lynchburg News & Advance