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COLUMN: Virginia’s transportation package: a tough call

- I am typing these words at my General Assembly desk in Richmond about a crucial vote on transportation that we took on Friday, February 22nd.

COLUMN: Virginia’s transportation package: a tough call

I am typing these words at my General Assembly desk in Richmond about a crucial vote on transportation that we took on Friday, February 22nd.

This crucial vote concerned final passage of HB2313 (the House-Senate Transportation Bill originally submitted by Gov. McDonnell, amended by a House-Senate Conference Committee, and put before the House for a vote on Friday). By the time we saw the amended bill, HB2313 has changed dramatically since it left Gov. McDonnell’s desk. Although it passed by a final vote of 60-40, I voted NO on this bill, along with five other Prince William County delegates. As a Prince William delegate to the General Assembly, I feel a strong sense of accountability to our citizens and wish to explain my vote.

Despite the reality that the transportation needs of the Commonwealth require additional new funding for construction of new roadways and maintenance of existing roads, I felt that this bill levied a heavy fiscal burden on our neighbors in Prince William County. Washington’s solution to our challenges seems to be higher taxes on families and job creators, and I didn’t want to do the same in Virginia.

My reasons for my NO vote resulted from the below realities.

First, we first saw the final copy of HB2313, 109 pages of complex data, on Thursday night at 6:15pm—hours before our vote on Friday morning and without full discussion and understanding of its complexities. The bill was not posted promptly on the General Assembly website for citizens to read and make input.

Second, our citizens were hit last month with a 2% federal decrease in their take-home pay. Additionally, federal officials openly speak of federal tax increases. Sequestration and the federal fiscal cliff threaten to kills hundreds of thousands of jobs in Virginia and Prince William County. The national economy didn’t merely remain flat last quarter…it contracted. And the nation is in the midst of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.

Third, HB2313 is a “compromise” that raises taxes and fees on Virginia families at a time when people are worried about losing their jobs or are facing a significant reduction in working hours and take-home pay. It increases taxes at the pump for cars and trucks; it increases the tax on car sales by 40%; it increases the sales tax to 6%; it increases fees on alternative fuel vehicles; it implements a high grantor tax on houses; it levies a 3% transient occupancy tax; and it depends on internet taxes that will be implemented by Washington—all without a single dollar cut in spending or an offset of another tax.

Let me be clear. I am not a legislator who will reflexively vote against a tax or fee increase if it’s truly needed—and affordable to our hardworking taxpaying citizens in Prince William County. I have also declined to sign any “no-tax pledges.” I have a high standard before I will vote for a tax or fee increase. And while I was a NO vote on this plan, I can readily vote YES on another plan that doesn’t embrace Washington ways, addresses transportation, and respects the pocketbook of our citizens.

To better understand the perspective of others, I conducted three community town hall meetings with our neighbors in January and February; personally exchanged several thousand emails with people in Prince William County; discussed the issue of taxes in hundreds of telephone calls; and met with hundreds of PWC residents visiting the State Capitol and when back home on the weekends in Prince William County. The overwhelming sentiment expressed to me was a simple “please do not raise my taxes in this economy.”

As a member of both the House Transportation Committee and House Finance Committee, I presented an alternative Transportation bill last month, on behalf of several legislators, in a committee hearing in the Capitol. The bill would have adjusted a number of taxes to raise revenue, repealed the food tax to assist those less fortunate, saved the average family of four $100 in taxes each year (as scored by the Virginia Department of Taxation), and lessened the financial impact on you and your family. Unfortunately, the House-Senate Conference Committee wrote the final plan placed before us for an up-or-down vote.

For years, Northern Virginia has sent money to Richmond without adequate return to our area. We currently get on average of 30 cents back for every dollar we send to Richmond. The final transportation plan did not fully resolve that problem, and I believe strongly that more transportation dollars must come back to our community where the gridlock exists.

In some respects, this was a tough decision. In other ways, it was easy. We received an avalanche of mail and calls from our Prince William neighbors. My colleagues and I are citizen-legislators, meaning that we are citizens first. The input of our neighbors helped shape my vote, and I believe strongly that most Prince William County residents sincerely want a transportation solution, but not one that burdens them financially.

In short, after receiving calls, letters, and emails from our neighbors, I heard their concerns, took their advice, and voted NO on a transportation plan that raises taxes on our already-overburdened neighbors in a down economy.

Serving my neighbors at home and in Richmond is a great honor, and I hope to always have their input when it comes to making decisions that affect our community. Please feel free to reach me directly at DelRAnderson@house.virginia.gov or at our Prince William County office (571-264-9983). My legislative assistant, Ryan M. Galloway, can also be reached at the same number or at RGalloway@house.virginia.gov. We look forward to seeing and serving you soon!

###

Del. Rich Anderson, a retired 30-year Air Force colonel, represents Prince William County’s 51st House District in the Virginia General Assembly and sits on four standing House committees: Finance, Transportation, General Laws, and Science and Technology. He also chairs the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus and the Virginia Commission on Civics Education.
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