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Political roundtable: Golden opportunity or time for caution?

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Virginia Business invited five veteran observers of state politics to comment on the November legislative election and the 2012 legislative session in a roundtable discussion held on Nov. 16 at the Berkeley Hotel in Richmond. For the first time in the five years the magazine has hosted the event, the roundtable took place before an audience of about 20 people. The panel includes: Ben Dendy, a former senior staff member to two Virginia governors who now is president of Richmond-based lobbying firm Vectre Corp.; Whitt Clement, a partner in the Government Relations practice at Hunton & Williams who formerly was a state secretary of transportation and a member of the House of Delegates from the Danville area; Chelyen Davis, a political reporter at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg; Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the Center on Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington; and Jeff Schapiro, a political reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This is a longer, edited version of the transcript that appeared in the January issue. 

Virginia Business:  We’re going to start by talking about the most recent election.  How much can we read into these results?  Were they a reflection of national politics or more based on local and state issues?

Schapiro:  I think it’s actually a combination of the two, given that Virginia has changed a great deal, this is a state now in which half the people who live here were not born here, are much more attuned to national politics and its effect on, say, the politics of their home states.  The Republicans clearly used distress over the economy and hostility towards President Obama as instruments to mobilize and energize Republican voters.

But there is clearly evidence that these campaigns are very much still friends-and-neighbors sorts of elections.  Some of the results would seem to defy expectations in part because people were voting for folks they knew.  But this is by no means a hard and fast rule. 

I was certainly surprised by the result, for example, in the Roscoe Reynolds, Evans, Bill Stanley race.  If you had asked me before the election who would win, I’d say, “Well, probably Roscoe Reynolds because down there they’re all Roscoe-crats.”  Well, it turns out that Bill Stanley, who was forced to move and to take on Roscoe Reynolds won and won convincingly, and that the third candidate in that race, an independent, a tea party candidate, was actually … seemed to be drawing more votes from Roscoe Reynolds in the end.

Clement: I think Jeff is correct.  I think the Republicans certainly tried to nationalize the election, and the Democrats tried to keep it the Virginia way.  And I think there were mixed results.  I don’t think the Republicans came out as well as they would have expected, certainly in Northern Virginia,  and clearly the Democrats, who did not have a real strong slate of candidates to begin with in the House, did not.

Davis: I cover the 17th Senate District [in which Democratic Sen. Edd Houck was defeated by a slim margin by Republican challenger Bryce Reeves.] I followed both of them around the campaign trail a bit.  And …people talked to them a lot about national issues.  They talked a lot about Social Security.  They talked about everybody [in Congress] getting along and stop the infighting and all that stuff.

Schapiro:  And wouldn’t that also speak to what Spotsylvania County, one of the anchor counties in that Senate district, is all about.  It has grown in large part because of people moving in from out of state.

Davis: That’s true.  We do have a lot of people, who commute to Washington or used to work in Washington in our area, so that might be a little skewed I guess from our district.

Dendy:  It looks like about …$40 million was spent by both parties on the Senate races.  And it only really defeated two incumbent senators and ended up with 20-20 [an even split of the 40-member Senate].  So there was not a significant turnover.  To spend that amount of money not to see more change is pretty remarkable. (Editor’s note: The Virginia Public Access Project later reported that $38.6 million was spent on Senate races, with 13 contests costing $1.05 million to $2.6 million.)

On the House side (and maybe it’s that people are very satisfied with state government), we have a whole lot less turnover this time than we did in ’91 or 2001.  In 2001, if you roll in 2000, where you had four new House members, three of which came as a result of congressional changes, you had a turnover of over a quarter of the House.  This year it’s only 16 members.  Not much turnover in the House as a whole, but big turnover in the House Republican caucus. 

Farnsworth: One thing that I would also add to this, with a particular focus on Northern Virginia, was the extent to which the Republicans had envisioned dramatic improvements.  They thought they would be competitive in a number of races in Northern Virginia in the Senate, invested a huge amount of money in some of those races, and didn’t get all that much for their trouble.

I’ve long thought that the Republicans have a Northern Virginia problem in terms of the ability to sell themselves.  And even the Republicans who are representing the area have to be very, very careful to distinguish themselves from the Republican caucus to make themselves less a candidate of social issues and more a candidate of local concerns, much of which revolve around transportation and resources for education and other issues.  Because, of course, the perspective from Northern Virginia is that they see themselves as a cow being milked twice a day [because of the state tax revenues the region produces].  And so there’s a great deal of frustration that is out there with respect to the more conservative social agenda as well as the tax cut agenda which doesn’t resonate as well in Northern Virginia as it does [south] of the Occoquan or even the Rappahannock.

VB: How much of a role did redistricting play in this election?  Do you think it had much influence in the turnout, in the results?

Farnsworth:  I think that this is a very different electorate when you talk about an “off-off-year election.”  And off-year election is just when there’s a governor.  In an off off-year election is when there isn’t even that.  So we have an off off-year election here, and the turnout is very small, and the electorate, of course, is very different from the electorate we would have seen two years ago or three years ago.  And that reality is exacerbated by the redistricting. 

I think one of the major problems from the point of view of a representative government, from the point of view of competitive elections, is that the voters are not choosing the candidates as much as the candidates are choosing the voters.  That leads to an environment where it’s very discouraging, I should think, for candidates who are drawn out of the district to basically waste their time and their money for districts [in which] they can’t win.  I mean if I were a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates, I would wonder why [I’d run].  Even if you’re in a safe district, you’re looking at two-thirds of the districts drawn to benefit Republicans. 

VB: Are we likely to see the 11 congressional districts remain relatively similar?

Dendy:  I don’t think they would be similar to what they are now but similar to what has passed the House [of Delegates].  I think that’s the plan that’s likely to pass. 

Going back to the issue of [legislative] redistricting, I think it has probably been a very unfair process ever since Patrick Henry tried to draw James Madison out of his seat.  But it’s a process that we go through every 10 years and doesn’t really change.

The real interesting fact is, I think, the Democrats were greatly helped by the redistricting in the Senate because apparently 40 percent of the vote was for Democratic candidates.  Now that’s a little confusing because so many Democratic candidates were unopposed, but they were definitely able to protect those Northern Virginia districts.

Clement: I think the Democrats in the Senate put too much faith in the redistricting process.  If the Democrats had sought after and recruited candidates a year or two ago, they would have tied down a lot more of the Republican incumbent senators.  And that would have diverted a lot of the funds that they had accumulated for other competitive races.  So I think the Democrats could have fared much better in redistricting on the Senate side if they had done that.

Davis:  To follow up on what he said, if you looked at the campaign finance report in competitive districts like the 17th, I kept seeing a lot of money for Bryce Reeves from Republican senators who didn’t have anything else to spend it on.  They didn’t have an opponent.

VB: Now that the Republicans have a working majority in both houses, what bills are we likely to see passed that were voted down in the Senate in the past?  And could these bills affect McDonnell’s national aspirations?

Davis: I find this an interesting conundrum because there’s the school of thought that now that Republicans have [a working majority], they’re going to do all the bills: all the stuff that we kept seeing get killed, all the abortion stuff, that we probably will see “personhood,” that we’ll see the “repeal amendment” that would let states repeal federal laws, we’ll see all kinds of things.

But there’s also a school of thought that they know there’s a presidential race [in 2012], and they do not, I think, want to go too far out of the mainstream and become immediately the party that people are voting against. 

So I think you will see some acquiescence to the fact they’ve got people in their party that are wanting to see these things, but I think they’re going to hold off on some of the more extreme or more out of the mainstream kind of things… 

The Republicans and Bill Bolling had a press conference. It was the one where they said they wouldn’t do any power sharing.  And they kept talking about “we ran on jobs and the economy, and that’s what the Senate is going to be about, jobs and the economy.”  And I felt that that was a very specific message. (Editor’s note: In December, a Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled against state Senate Democrats in a lawsuit attempting to force Republicans into a power-sharing arrangement.)

Dendy: I think the challenge they have is they’re going to have [is], maybe, a supermajority on the Senate Education and Health Committee.  So they’re really going to have to decide what they want to do.  You’re not going to have tie votes on these social issues because [Democratic] Sens. [Charles] Colgan and [Roscoe] Puckett are with them on most of those issues.  So basically, they will have to determine what the agenda is on those issues. [If they decide on a bill], it will obviously be reported from the committee and it will pass the Senate.  And there won’t be, in my view, any tie vote on it.

Schapiro: I confess I’m a kind of fussy devotee of parliamentary arcana, but one of the reasons the Republicans held that news conference after the election to declare themselves the majority is because they were trying to steal a march [on the Democrats].  There are some questions about whether that is indeed the case.  Clearly the Democrats are grieving.  They haven’t quite decided what to do and how to deal with the limits, if you will, of the lieutenant governor’s tiebreaking power… 

I think the other thing to keep in mind, certainly apropos of McDonnell’s interests and aspirations: Remember these legislators and legislators-elect have just been installed in freshly drawn districts, the boundaries of which will endure beyond the McDonnell governorship.  That’s a long-winded way of saying his leverage is going to fade quickly.  They’re going to start thinking about defending those seats on a ticket led by someone else.  We don’t know who that someone is.

So clearly this is McDonnell’s moment.  Clearly McDonnell will have some leverage because of the money and attention he showered on these races.  But it’s not necessarily a long-term or enduring thing.  He will rapidly become a footnote after the Legislature adjourns in the spring.

Farnsworth:  It’s really striking as well that when we look beyond Virginia just for a moment, that there is a whole series of lessons of legislative overreach that we see in the last several months as we look at the Wisconsin recall elections; …the Ohio collective bargaining referendum which [went against] the governor there, the legislative overreach perhaps of Congress in the minds of some in terms of what the Democratic majorities wrought in 2009 and paid for in 2010. 

I think the [suggestion] that this could be a revolutionary new environment is an idea we’d want to take with some caution, not only because of the mechanical issues with respect to how the Senate might operate and the reliance on the most unreliable senator for any majority, but also the fact that as you look around the country, efforts to govern in a fiercely partisan way, even when the Democratic Party is facing headwinds, have triggered substantial backlash.

VB: Talking about the tie-breaking vote, do you think this is going to help or hurt Bill Bolling’s chances in the governor’s race?

Dendy: At the end of the day, I’m not sure that he will have a huge impact.  I thought it was interesting that he chose to take the lead on that and kind of growing out of what Dr. Farnsworth said, whether you would want to be the lead in saying, “We are going to take control.”  I would almost argue for doing it in the dead of night.

The other thing is, just as I mentioned on the social issues, he may not get as many tie votes as he thinks he’s going to get.  I worked in the lieutenant governor’s office for four years, and the most exciting and policy-oriented tie vote that we ever had was on the size of dance floors while you are serving alcohol…Don Beyer, who was lieutenant governor during the last period of 20-20, said in the newspaper that there was only one tie vote that was used in his term and that was regarding welfare benefits and the opportunity to challenge them.  So it didn’t end up being a big issue in his campaign.

So 20-20, when it really breaks down regionally or how you feel on social issues, [will be a factor] only on budget issues and tax issues that will come to that sort of thing.

Clement: I think there will be some gamesmanship.  I think there will be a lot of cat and mouse…One Democrat will vote the way he doesn’t necessarily want to vote in order to create a tie and perhaps an embarrassing vote [by Bolling].  And I think the Republicans will be watching for that.  And I think one of them will absolutely be willing to flip his or her vote for the same purpose to either to bring up a tie breaker that they would want the lieutenant governor to weigh in or to prevent a tie breaker to keep him off of the hot seat.

Schapiro: But clearly near term, say between now and next May, this tide in the Senate elevates Bolling’s status as “41st senator” and elevates his status as the heir apparent [to Gov. Bob McDonnell].  And I would think he may also use it as an opportunity to draw some bright lines or brighter lines between himself and [Republican Attorney General] Ken Cuccinelli.  (Editor’s note: Cuccinelli announced in early December that he plans to challenge Bolling for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.)

Clement: They’re going to have to have that very well wired between [Bolling] at the podium and his caucus on the floor, and trying to figure out who is going to make what motion first and when he hits that button how quickly they can allow him to be in that position.

Dendy: And it has to come to a tie vote.  He may have things that he wants to vote on, but it has got to come to a tie vote for him to vote.  And I think Dr. Farnsworth made a good point about what’s going on in the other states.  But I think you have to keep in mind that many of these Democratic senators are at this point in very secure districts.  And they really may not have to worry about these sorts of PR problems that other senators in more competitive districts do.  The Republicans would be in the same position if they were in a 20-person minority.  But all you need is two or three to take a walk or to leave town for a few days, and their constituents may like that.

VB: Who do you expect will run for governor on the Democratic side?

Clement: Terry McAuliffe is the only one who I’ve heard of who is really willing to stick his neck out…It’s a weak bench.  It’s a weak bench.  They really need to go outside McAuliffe sort of fits that, but maybe not for governor, but maybe some of the lower [positions], lieutenant governor or attorney general, find someone who is not in the political process right now, a fresh face ideally with some stature who already has some traction with the people through various associations.

VB:  It looks like the state may be facing as much as a billion dollar shortfall in the next budget.  How big are budget cuts likely to be and where do you think they might fall?

Schapiro:  There has been a very grim outlook for the budget for a long time for a number of reasons, including the growth of Medicaid, which is the fastest-growing element of the budget.  Rise in unemployment poses implications for tax revenue. 

The big, big wild card of course is what happens in Washington or not, and what does that mean in terms of directed state [funds] as well as dollars flowing through the economy.

The governor pretty much tipped his hand even after taking great credit for this latest surplus by instructing his agencies to, except those in higher education, to submit proposals to reduce their spending 2 percent, 4 percent and 6 percent.

I think it’s safe to say that certainly in Virginia, governors are highly regarded for their ability or lack thereof to be managers.  And one of the things that Bob McDonnell has really tried to emphasize… [is that] he’s a responsible fiscal steward. 

But that said, there are some time bombs that he is facing, and in all likelihood will probably be leaving for his successors, one of which is this big hole in the pension fund.  There is $17 billion unfunded liability in the retirement system.  The governor is not helping matters by raiding the fund to the tune of $620 million or $700 million, depending on your arithmetic.  And he is of the view that somehow this problem can be controlled by overhauling the pension system by moving to a system of, rather than fixed benefits, defined benefits, self-managed pensions, if you will.

Pension experts and the politicians are very sharply divided on that.  And some believe that the economic impact can be even greater, that it can be even costlier in the long term.  (Editor’s note: McDonnell in mid-December proposed a$2.2 billion infusion into the public employee pension system over the next two years)

So when the House Appropriations Committee says, as it did this week, “We’re looking at maybe a billion dollars over the next two years short,” I would say that’s a billion to start.

Davis:  And I would add, we would have been in that hole a couple of years ago but for the Federal stimulus money.  But that has run out.  And back then people talked about sort of a cliff effect [with the loss of stimulus funds], and here we are on the cliff.

Clement:  Secretary of Finance Ric Brown has said, if we meet our forecast in the coming year, and if we fulfill the baseline obligations and core services, there would be about $500 million of money to allocate.  Well, if you look at the things that Jeff has mentioned, unfunded mandates and the loss of the stimulus money, not to mention the governor’s emphasis on 100,000 new graduates in the coming years, and then look at the re-benchmarking for public school, public aid for schools based on the standards of quality, and you add on that the composite index for Northern Virginia on the decline in the housing market, you’ve blown well through that $500 million that hasn’t been allocated if you just preserve what you did last year and count the growth you expect this year.

Dendy:  When you look at every area of the budget, there are a bunch of needs, and they are the major drivers of the budget.  Medicaid, today we’re at 21 percent of the budget.  It’s going to be 24 percent by 2014.  And that is before you bring online the huge growth in 2014 that is mandated by the federal health-care reform that could increase the number of Medicaid recipients by 300,000.  That will be a huge issue.

One of the interesting things the governor has done, in addition to this 2, 4 and 6 percent, he has set up task forces to look at Medicaid, another one to look at public education K-12, and another in higher education, to look at long-term sorts of savings and strategies.  And really that’s what you’ve got to do because when you take Medicaid and education and public safety out, that doesn’t leave a whole lot to cut.

Farnsworth:  At the risk of making a bleak series of responses even more so, I think it’s appropriate to recognize that there is the potential for a major deterioration of revenues coming out of Northern Virginia as a result of the federal budget impasse.  When you look at all the federal employees, and the federal contractors, and the extent to which we’re talking about major cuts, if the super committee doesn’t turn out to be so super in its productivity, these kinds of consequences can be pretty severe in terms of state revenue estimates. (Editor’s note: A few days after this session, the super committee conceded that it could not reach agreement on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts.)

When we’re looking at the very bleak conversation we have now, we’re assuming something close to the status quo.  But we may be looking at more significant cutbacks at the federal level that will, of course, be very, very painful from the point of view of increasing roles on state aid for Medicaid and other programs if employment increases as well as reducing the revenue that can be collected from income that doesn’t exist if there are the kinds of cutbacks that are being talked about as the federal budget tries to reduce the size of the deficit.

VB: How tough do you think it’s going to be for Obama to win Virginia again?  And also, how do you think the current Republican candidates will play out here?

Farnsworth:  Well, I think if you can tell me the unemployment rate next October, I’ll tell you who can win the election.  I think that one of the real north stars, when you think about trying to understand national elections, is retrospective voting.  That basically people look at how well or how poorly the economy has performed and reward or punish the party that’s responsible.

Now in a case of Obama, things have not worked well.  And if things do not work dramatically better, I think his prospects are below 50-50.  I think that when you look at whatever reality he may be able to argue is due to the problems of the Bush years, people will hold him responsible after four years. 

I think that the Democrats do not indicate, when you look at the election cycle that we just went through, that there’s a lot of enthusiasm or energy.  Certainly nothing comparable to 2008.  And it seems to me that the Obama campaign really needs to rekindle magic if Virginia is going to be a state that Obama wins.

That being said, of course, if the Republicans nominate a catastrophic candidate, then Obama’s prospects get better.  But I think that the short of that, it’s not going to be all that appealing absent dramatic economic improvement, which doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Schapiro:  Wouldn’t an asterisk to that be true in that one of the things that’s so magical about politics in this state is how the temperament of the state changes depending on the number of people who participate?  That Barrack Obama carried the state in 2008, first Democrat to win Virginia for the presidency in 44 years, probably isn’t all that surprising given that it was a 74 percent turnout.  And that the following year, there would be not just a Republican governor but a Republican landslide, but a 43 percent turnout.

Farnsworth:   But if the enthusiasm is not rekindled, you won’t be seeing that 74 percent turnout.  If turnout is that high in 2012, I think that would be very good news for Obama, but I don’t see it.

Dendy:  There was an interesting article in the National Journal that said the president is going to have to make a decision what his strategy will be politically.  And that he will either go after the populist states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or he needs to have a different approach to kind of go after the more professional, higher-educated, more affluent voters like he got in Virginia and North Carolina and Nevada. 

VB: Chelyen, what do you think will be the key factors in the Senate race presumably between George Allen and Tim Kaine?

Davis:  It could depend on so many things.  Very poll I’ve seen has them [virtually tied] within the margin of error against each other.  And that’s assuming they both get nominated, obligatory caveat.  But I don’t know.  It’s a race of two former governors, both of whom are well known.  It’s a political reporter’s dream.  We’ll just pop popcorn and watch.  But I think it will depend a lot on what’s going on nationally by fall of next year.  It will depend a lot on who the presidential candidates are and how they’re doing.  There are just so many factors that it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen in that one.  And it’s just so close.  Every poll is so close.

Schapiro:  And they both have so much baggage largely of their own making.  George Allen is running for the Senate, a job he didn’t want, essentially representing himself as a successful former governor, which he is.  However, that was a generation ago.  George was a lot thinner.  He was a lot more nimble.  And he certainly had established his bona fides as kind of a Virginia-like Newt Gingrich. 

Kaine, on the other hand, wasn’t planning on running for the Senate and did all sorts of things as governor that clearly are going to imperil him.  I mean saying goodbye budget- wise with a proposed tax increase and then trying two or three times in the course of his administration to increase taxes.  So he has got something to shed as well, maybe not ounces but certainly a record.

The nationalization of Virginia’s politics is going to affect this race.  The fate of these candidates could be closely tied to what happens at the national level.  That said, Virginia has a history of ticket splitting though it seems to have faded considerably. 

Farnsworth:  I would add to this that candidates increasingly do not have as much control over the discourse of the campaigns as they used to.  One of the things that comes in the wake of the Citizens United [U.S. Supreme Court] decision [on political contributions] is a much greater ability of outside groups, outside groups whose sources of funding are not publicly disclosed, to be involved in these races.  And I’m not sure if the advertising has been in the Richmond area, but in the D.C. market, we’ve already seen Crossroads GPS, Karl Rowe’s organization, put forward attack ads on Tim Kaine.  And so you have an increasing third-party or independent voice that occurs in these races that may or may not be all that helpful to the party that they’re trying to help.  And the candidates themselves, the issues that they may wish to run on, they can in some cases be overshadowed by the issues of the attack advertising and the critical work of these outside voices.

And it is, of course, I think doubly troubling when you think about the extent to which these sources of funding for these attacks are not publicly disclosed.  The arrangements that now exist for these races do not have the kind of transparency that you see with the traditional hard money, the spending as a result of the campaigns themselves.

Clement:  I can’t think of a time where we’ve had two candidates who are such well-known commodities.  I would venture to guess 80 percent of the people can tell you right now who they are going to vote for. Maybe those external factors will tip the scales, but not like it could with candidates who did not have such a clearly defined background distinguished from each other as these two do.  It just amazes me how much money will be spent trying to convince that 20 percent that one is a better candidate over the other.

Dendy:  I’ve been very surprised at how close it is because I think the current environment should be very good for George Allen.  And I would have anticipated him being further ahead in the polls.  And I think it will be interesting the next round of polls that come out because as Dr. Farnsworth said, there have been these negative ads against Kaine, and it will be interesting to see if they have had an impact.  But I think Kaine is in an interesting position.  He has always kind of run from behind.  He has never had this thing where he’s a little bit ahead or even in a dead heat.  So it’s a different dynamic.

Question from the audience:  Infrastructure, what is the prospect for the future?  Talking about bringing business in, making Virginia more business friendly, if you can’t get goods around Virginia, out of Virginia, in Virginia, who is going to come?

Dendy:  Last year I sat here and I got some favorable calls about it so I’ll say it again.  We’re rated as the best state to do business.  If we don’t do something about transportation, unless those states are in really bad shape, I don’t see how long we can continue that. 

Now the governor made huge strides this year, and it’s a $3.2 billion program, largely for construction over the next few years.  He’s the first governor to be able to do this in many years, really since Baliles in ’86.  The big problem we have now is the maintenance.  And the maintenance dollars starting in 2002, we’ve been using, having to take construction dollars and devote them to maintenance because maintenance receives first priority.  And by 2017, all our construction dollars are going to have to go into maintenance.  So we’ll have no construction dollars.  Right now it’s $500 million this year.

So the legislature’s charge this year is going to be to fill that $500 million gap.  And I understand that that’s a priority of the governor to address that maintenance issue.  And if you do that along with what he did last year, I think we will have made huge strides towards addressing this issue.  And it will continue to be a big issue.

Clement:  I think the Governor is in a real tough spot.  I think he is sincere.  I think he recognizes probably far better than he did perhaps as a legislator, and I think he is sincere in trying to fill that gap for maintenance money.  And as Ben says, it is about $500 million that we have deprived from construction to support a maintenance program.  And even that is pretty modest. 
The governor has had a working group of legislators even throughout this election season.  The governor has reached out to the Virginia Chamber to try to reach a consensus of the business community about what might work.  But he’s in a tough position when you know there are not going to be any new taxes.  How many taxes can you call fees?  And even so, it’s not going to nearly be enough to make up the difference.

I do think there will be an effort to have a legislation that would index the gas tax…that’s about the most serious proposal that I’ve heard that might have some legs.  But even that’s going to take an awful long time.  If you look, since 1986, governor Baliles in that special session with a gas tax of 17 ½ percent, look at the erosion that has occurred.  It’s almost 50 percent.  So it will take a long time for even an indexing bill to have any appreciable effect.

Schapiro:  Indexing will be representative for what it is.  It’s a tax increase, and potentially an automatic tax increase.  It was an issue that the assembly discussed in 1986, and there were a number of legislators who said, “Why don’t we just put this trigger in the fuel tax formula? That way we don’t have to vote on an increase every time we need more money,” but the legislature felt very strongly about delegates and senators being brave and publicly voting on revenue increases when necessary.  So that was killed.  And it’s spot-on that there are these structural problems now with the fuel tax. 

Farnsworth:  I’ve often wondered how many executives come into Northern Virginia, land at Dulles Airport, and after a week at a conference or whatever say, “I would never want to deal with this traffic.  I would never want to be here or put my family through this on a daily basis.”  And these are people who may never have called any state economic development officer, county economic development office, people that no one has ever heard of, but they just simply spend a weekend here, they have an experience here, and because of the infrastructure problems, it’s not a good one.  And that may cost us more jobs than we know.

And so I think that the future may look a bit like the past in terms of some of the private-public partnerships like the private extension of the toll lanes with respect to the Beltway in Washington where the idea is that if the state can offload the costs without a tax increase, then you can have a fee structure that’s run by some private agency that can handle some of these things.

A similar system was put in place, of course, for the extension of the Metro to Dulles, where you have a system where the tolls that are already existing on the Dulles toll road will be increased as necessary to cover these costs.  And there are some local jurisdictions on the hook that are very concerned about the rapidly escalating costs of this project – Fairfax and Loudon in particular are very troubled by the trajectory of how much this is costing.

But those are the kinds of things imperfect though they may be that seem to me the limit of what can be passed in this current legislative environment.

Davis:  And this doesn’t really answer your larger question, but I’m going to be quite interested to see what happens with the idea of tolling 95.  Especially in Fredericksburg we’re interested because they’re talking about a toll booth between Fredericksburg and Richmond, maybe around Massaponax, which is considered part of Fredericksburg. 

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