March 1, 2007
The Virginia General Assembly passed a transportation funding bill that is far from perfect, but is at least a workable compromise that represents a step in the right direction. Gov. Kaine is mad that there isn't enough money to build highways in the wealthy, urbanized parts of the state, and has threatened to veto it. More likely, he will exercise his power to rewrite certain portions he doesn't like, in which case the legislature would have the opportunity to give [assent to the changes] or not at a special session later this spring. The big surprise is that for once the Republicans in the Senate and House of Delegates are standing together, realizing that their majority status is in jeopardy. [It's about bleeping time.] The new chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Ed Gillespie, played a role in coordinating the response. Such direct involvement in policy matters by a party official is rather unusual, and this initiative by Gillespie -- which I applaud -- is evidence of the dire situation the state party organization is in. See Washington Post.
The News Leader editors deride the package as a "shell game":
Unfortunately, the bill is such a hodge-podge of balkanization, buck-passing, borrowing and bad intent that it meets and surpasses Otto von Bismarck's famous metaphor for legislation and sausage. In fact, it's so mangled and sausaged-up that it could be considered dead on arrival.
Well, they do have a point. I agree that it is wrong to use general revenue funds to pay for transportation, and borrowing money for such purposes is likewise very questionable. Unlike most Republicans, I would much rather have a small increase on fuel taxes, so that people would feel in a direct way the high cost of maintaining a 21st Century highway system. (There are also conservation and national security spinoffs from such a tax.) Above all, no one should be deluded by the old-fashioned notion that wide, smooth roads are free.
I take sharp issue, however, with the News Leader's characterization of the bill as "shirking" the state's responsibility for transportation. When different people within a given political unit have sharply different opinions on a given issue, as on this one, the logical thing to do is provide a reasonable way for the various interests to be accommodated. That's all the regional tax proposal does, and I think it is entirely justified. (Some will recall that that was one of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's major proposals, but his message got muffled late in the 2005 campaign.) Overall, the transportation package is about as good as could be expected, given the current divisions within the state party. Further intense discussion and dialogue among party leaders will be necessary to formulate a consistent long-term policy agenda for the Commonwealth, so that voters will know what to expect when they make their choices in November.
Arthur Schlesinger, the erudite, bow-tied Eastern Establishment historian who was an adviser to President Kennedy, has died at the age of 89. He was the author of many books, including A Thousand Days, about the JFK administration, as well as The Imperial Presidency, which was aimed primarily at Richard Nixon. See Washington Post. Ironically, one of Nixon's main foreign policy accomplishments was to smoothly disengage from the Vietnam War, which was brought about by Lyndon Johnson.