CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Apparently upset that the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways failed to find a pot of gold to pay for construction and maintenance of state roadways, a trio of Republican delegates -- Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; Paul Espinosa, R- Jefferson; and Gary Howell R-Mineral -- announced they were heading down to Richmond to meet with Virginia House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, to discuss the Commonwealth's new transportation funding plan.
(As Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, points out, they could have an additional motivation, since in 2012, the Howell for Delegate Committee gave $10,000 to the West Virginia House PAC.)
Virginia is adopting a rather radical plan, shifting transportation funding away from the traditional gas tax formula to a system that primarily relies on about $640 million a year in new sales and use taxes.
The Virginia plan, as the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy's Ted Boettner adroitly points out, shifts the burden for paying for transportation funding away from drivers and onto low- and middle-income families, who are hardest hit by regressive sales taxes.
Boettner notes it also penalizes Virginians who are trying to reduce their transportation costs by carpooling, using mass transit, or walking to work, as well as those who have opted to live close to their workplaces to reduce commuting costs.
He writes: "So far, it appears that the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force is headed in the right direction by ensuring that out-of-state drivers pay their fair share and that we continue to tie our transportation funding to those that use our roads the most, while not placing an undue burden on those with the least ability to pay."
Meanwhile, Chuck Riecks, chairman of Friends of the Cardinal and the West Virginia representative on the National Association of Railroad Passengers, will offer a different take on Virginia's transportation plan in a presentation he is to make this week at the state Council of Churches' Public Policy Forum.
While the governor's Blue Ribbon panel focused strictly on highways, Riecks notes that Virginia is embarking on a comprehensive transportation plan, with revenue from the state's new funding model going not just to build and maintain highways, but to expand other modes of transportation, including one closest to Riecks' heart, passenger rail service.
(Virginia leaders undoubtedly realized they could not pave their way out of traffic congestion problems in the state.)
Though a public/private partnership called Amtrak Virginia, Virginia helped fund new daily rail service from Norfolk, Richmond and Lynchburg to Washington, and recently announced that the Lynchburg route will be extended to Roanoke.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced last week that state ridership on Amtrak had doubled since 2009, to more than 1.6 million passengers in fiscal 2013, saying, "It is clear Virginians embrace the idea of passenger rail service."