It’s easier to ask for forgiveness

Published 10:04 am Friday, April 5, 2013

Giving credit where credit is due, Governor Bob McDonnell and the Virginia General Assembly pulled off what can almost be described as miraculous during the just completed legislative session when they finally passed a transportation bill. The bill, by almost all accounts, is not entirely pleasing to anyone and is just barely acceptable to most. However, after years of kicking the transportation can down the road, party leaders in the finest of Virginia traditions, managed to put aside partisan interest and did what Virginians desperately needed them to do, which was to pass even a mediocre transportation bill.

What is important about the transportation bill, in any form it could have taken, is that it creates a funding mechanism to proceed with projects that are badly needed to help solve our state’s gridlock crisis. While the funding mechanism in this particular bill is difficult to understand (most elected officials we’ve spoken to say it’s complicated at best) and may not be perfect, at least it exists.

What also does not yet exist in this bill is an effective spending mechanism needed to disperse the new revenue earmarked for transportation projects. And that is now highlighted nowhere in the state more than in Franklin and Southampton County.

A brief sketch of how the bill works is this: the bill eliminates the state gas tax and implements an increase on the combined state and local sales tax that takes it from 5% to 5.3%. The new sales tax rate is also increased in those regions identified as ones most desperately needing the transportation infrastructure upgrades by another .7%, for a total of 6%. The state originally planned on identifying these region with transportation districts but, facing the potential of a legal challenge based on federal law, resorted to using existing – and federally approved – planning district boundaries instead. This change was only introduced into the bill last week when it was offered by the governor as an amendment to the original bill. As a result, Franklin and Southampton County (along with Surry), none of whom were originally identified as being in one of the higher-taxed transportation districts, will now pay the higher sales tax rate as a result.

Which would be fine if it meant we were now in line to reap the benefits of the new transportation funds. But we’re not.

Neither Franklin nor Southampton has a seat or a vote on the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. Meaning we pay the higher tax but have no representation with regard to how it is spent.

As one public official pointed out to us this week, revolutionary wars have been fought over similar issues in this state.

Governor McDonnell and the legislators who approved this new measure probably had no intent in wronging either Franklin or Southampton County. But they have. A simple phone call to a county administrator or a city manager would have let them know that in advance, but now they must fix it after the fact. We’ll give the benefit of the doubt that they actually plan to do so.