Political Animal


February 25, 2013 2:47 PM Transportation Money Shuffle

By Ed Kilgore

It’s not often that state transportation bills make national political news. But given Virginia’s proximity to Washington, and its hosting of a gubernatorial contest that will be one of the few hard-news political developments of the year, the bill heading to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk (where he is certain to sign it) is getting some serious ink.

Stewart Schwartz of Greater Greater Washington has plenty of detail on the bill (mostly from the perspective of traffic-strangled Northern Virginia). When I lived in the Commonwealth and commuted from central Virginia to DC, I used to wonder why people weren’t rioting over the insane congestion on I-95 and portions of the Beltway. Given the horrendous conditions and the reality of a Republican-controlled statehouse, Northern Virginians and supporters of public transportation unsurprisingly accepted somewhat less than half-a-loaf in the current bill in terms of transit money and the disproportionate expenditure of funds on rural highways where one could safely take a nap on the center line.

But the most notable feature of the bill is a big money-shuffle: the flat tax on gasoline and diesel fuel purchases would be replaced by a percentage sales tax on fuel sales, which will supposedly make it easier for revenues to track higher pump prices. There’s also an increase on sales tax generally, and at a higher level in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, where there’s local support for more transportation spending. And even more general revenue is diverted from other state needs into road-building than was already the case. Surprisingly enough in a state where Republicans for years made “no car tax” their main talking point, the tax on car sales was boosted. And on top of everything else, Virginia is imposing a new $100 annual tax on hybrid cars, on the twisted if technically accurate theory that because they consume less fuel, they aren’t bearing their fair share of road taxes.

Republicans were considerably more divided than Democrats on this bill, and their unopposed gubernatorial candidates, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, loudly opposed it (even as unopposed Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe supported it). An important side issue was that McDonnell agreed as part of the transportation deal to create a commission that could authorize expansion of Medicaid according to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act if certain “reforms” are certified as having been initiated. This is obviously unacceptable to Cuccinelli, but could lead to Medicaid coverage for 400,000 Virginians if McAuliffe wins the governorship this November.

It’s a sign of the times that it took accepting a Republican-leaning version of a transportation bill for Democrats to get relief from an ongoing transportation crisis—and to paint Cuccinelli yet again into an extremist corner where he’s going to find it very difficult to emulate McDonnell’s 2009 “Hey I’m not so crazy!” message.

UPDATE: Erick Erickson pretty much goes DefCon3 on McDonnell and the Republican legislators who voted for the transportation bill.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • low-tech cyclist on February 25, 2013 3:00 PM:

    While I'm disappointed that the Dems seem to be stuck with McAuliffe, the ultimate faceless inside player, as their nominee, I'm glad to see that he's taking full advantage of the opportunity to give Virginians a clear choice between him and the Kook.

    On the whole, we Dems do well when we are able to define a clear choice on the issues between our candidates and theirs. We do a lot less well when we blur the issues, or let them get away with blurring the issues, and allowing elections to turn on personality and stuff. Republicans can be quite personable and charming while cutting Medicaid and unemployment benefits and the like, after all.

  • c u n d gulag on February 25, 2013 3:01 PM:

    "Cooch" is a first-class Conservative douchebag.

    And when I lived in NC, and went home 5 or 6 times a year, back to Upstate NY, the first few years, I took I-95 the whole way. One time, it took me over 4 hours to get from just South of DC, to just South of Baltimore, because they had to raise the drawbridge - ON THE NATION'S MAJOR EASTERN N-S HIGHWAY! - not for a Navy ship, for a feckin' YACHT!

    Then, someone told me about Rt. 301, which took me from a little North of Richmond, to a little North of Baltimore, over the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and I never took I-95 ever again!

    FSM, you couldn't pay me enough to live on Long Island, NY, LA, California, or the DC-Metro area.

  • RaflW on February 25, 2013 3:24 PM:

    In his DefCon3, Erickson pretty much makes the case for why austerity in a deep recession is crap policy:

    "...since Virginia has been insulated from the economic downturn thanks largely to spending by the federal government..."

    Yep, Erick. Funny how that works. Despite how you and your fellows try to claim that Keynes was wrong.

  • exlibra on February 25, 2013 4:07 PM:

    The bill is being touted as a model of bipartisanship and, to an extent, it may well be. But, for me it's "exhibit A" of what happens when Dems are willing to stand firm together in defense of their principles. McDonnell wanted that bill very, very badly. Not surprising, really, because being known as the Governor Who Had Pushed the Transportation Bill Through (rather than Governor Vaginal Ultrasound) is worth a lot. But that Dems "outstared" him on Medicaid expansion, up to the last minute, despite the fact that they, too wanted the transportation bill, is nothing short of miraculous and *very definitely* worth putting on one's resume.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 25, 2013 4:08 PM:

    Rt. 301 - I'm going to have to try that out on my next MD to NC road trip. I'll suffer 95 but only in the dead of night.

    As I've discovered after many a road trip to NC, NOVA is just an effing mess. I can cruise up and fucking down 95 and will only hit traffic in NOVA. No matter what time of day or night (I once sat in a traffic jam for 2 hours--at 2 O'CLOCK IN THE AM!!!!). I'm only surprised that Northern Virginians haven't, literally, driven themselves bat-shit crazy. I tolerate my Baltimore-DC because I can power-nap it on the MARC train. But I don't think VA's VRE service is yet as extensive as MD's MARC service, though ridership is increasing.

  • Doug on February 25, 2013 4:30 PM:

    So, Eric, son of Erik only makes use of those waterways deep enough for his longboat?
    Or is he yet another Republican hypocrite?

    (Sorry about the double use of "Republican")

  • boatboy_srq on February 25, 2013 4:55 PM:

    US 301 is definitely a saner way to get from North to South (and vice versa) than I-95. The bridge over the Bay is a bit -um, interesting, but other than that it's a much quieter, lower-stress way to get from A to B (or from MD to VA).

    @SGB: Northern Virginians seem to come in two varieties: the nearly-batsh#t-crazy from driving, and the truly batsh#t crazy winguts - who are headed for the hills - literally. The hills rising above Leesburg and headed toward Winchester are the Hindu Kush of the Teahad: they even have their own VA Tea Party license plates (like anyone driving a great honking dualie with a gun rack and double-R (Romney-Ryan) bumper stickers would be confused as anything BUT...).

  • Great on February 25, 2013 5:05 PM:

    NCIe very ncie great!


  • taxi edina on March 01, 2013 10:47 AM: