It’s time for Virginia to change

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Print this page by W. Rodger Provo

Virginia is now facing the greatest challenges in our modern history, given the radical changes taking place in the economy at home and abroad that require bold, creative new thinking in our state government to find meaningful, sustainable solutions.

Major issues include:

• Our inability to resolve planning and transportation problems.

• Our tax structure that encourages local governments to make bad land-use decisions. These decisions make it impossible to solve transportation woes and hinder sustainable economic growth.

• Our local government structure created in Colonial times that does not work in a state of 7.5 million residents.

We need new, meaningful efforts from our next governor and the General Assembly to resolve these issues so we can put an end to the political gridlock at the state Capitol.

A study group needs to be formed by them representing a cross-section of Virginians to formulate a non-partisan plan to tackle these problems.

Such a group needs could follow the same model of the blue ribbon committees organized by former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton in the 1970s to reorganize state government (that led to the creation of the state cabinet system) and by former Democratic Gov. Gerald Baliles in the 1980s that led to the last major investment in our transportation system.

Virginia should consider a new form of government based on the Portland, Ore., Metropolitan Government — a regional, elected government empowered to deal with planning, transportation and other issues impacting 25 cities and three counties with a population of 1.4 million, similar to Hampton Roads.  Metro (http://www.oregonmetro.gov/), as it is known in Portland, is a vital, positive factor in fostering a high quality of life for the residents in that creative, popular metropolitan area.

Virginia needs to merge our regional planning district commissions and our metropolitan planning organizations — federally mandated regional transportation planning groups — to create a similar new form of government. 

These merged programs need to reflect the growth patterns today in their organization, given the PDC’s were created in 1968 and only two have been merged since, during more than 40 years of rapid growth in Virginia.  This new form of government needs to be elected, have taxing authority and the authority to make planning and transportation decisions at the regional level.

Virginia must come to grip with the reality that our tax structure, which encourages more commercial real estate than what the market will support, needs to be retooled.  We do not need more shopping centers, office buildings, industrial buildings and hotels in many of our communities.
But we need new employment centers that will create 21st-century jobs that will pay livable wages for our residents.

The secretary of transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and Virginia Department of Transportation under this plan should be responsible for insuring a statewide concept for our transportation program and meet our obligations to federal highway and transportation programs.

Virginia’s state planning function needs to be moved out of the state budget office relative to certain matters. Meanwhile, the secretaries of transportation, commerce and environment need to be legally charged with responsibilities to coordinate state efforts and resources with this new program.

Virginia had a state planning department for nearly two decades in the 1960s and 1970s that worked with communities.  That department was eliminated and merged into the budget office.  The state’s failure to play a role in our planning process over the last 40 years was a tragic mistake.

The reality is that in Virginia, as long as we allow growth to take place as it has over the last 40 years, we will always have transportation problems. Local land use decisions create burdens on our system that VDOT can’t solve because it does not have the financial nor legal means to do so.

Needless competition between communities creates development that has led to many of the dead, vacant retail spaces that we now have around the state that will need to be repositioned, given the decline in the retail sector of our nation’s economy.

The recent closing of 19 rest stops in Virginia along our interstate highway system is a memorial to the failure of both political parties to meet their responsibilities to Virginia’s businesses, residents and our guests.

Voters should no longer accept this conduct by those who wish to represent us in our state government.  We need to move the discussion about how we solve our problems to a venue that will produce solutions for us.

Both candidates for governor should be asked to agree to form a non-partisan blue ribbon committee to tackle these problems.

W. Rodger Provo is a Fredericksburg businessman who served as a special assistant to former Gov. Linwood Holton in helping to organize that administration.

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