Elephant Ears

This blog is dedicated to the political happenings in the Valley and Southwest Virginia. As the the name implies, this blog will have posts based on what is heard by this elephant's (GOPer's) ears. It is also a great treat to get while at the county fair or a carnival.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Transportation Session Begins

Tomorrow (or later today I guess), the special session for transportation will begin for the General Assembly. There are about 90 bills that have been proposed.

From what I hear, the $137 million that was miscalculated will in fact be earmarked for its original purposes, but it will only be a one time thing. It was a wrongly calculated formula and therefore the localities don't really deserve the money anyway. Even so, since the localities have already written their budgets based on this money, it was almost impossible for the state to withhold it this year. It still remains to be seen whether it will really end up being a one time thing; but I am confident the House GOP will hold firm on this in the session next January.

As for the actual transporation solutions, it doesn't sound like there is any one plan that is getting widespread praise. The House Appropriations Cmte has approved a spending plan that gives $2.4 Billion to transportation over 6 years by raising $1.5 Billion in debt (this also will require a bond referendum in 2007) and spending $339 Million from the transportation reserve fund. The bill they passed also requires that 50% of general fund surplus (after rainy day fund and water quality funding) be spent on transportation as well. It is my understanding that this proposal is supported by the GOP caucus and should pass the House.
I have a feeling that plan will be met with resistance in the Senate, as they have said they oppose borrowing money for the transportation solutions. Time will tell on that.

Also, I am told that we have received about $100 million in federal money to build/upgrade truck lanes on I-81. I think the total to be spent on that project will be $140 million, which is about half of what they originally wanted to do the whole corridor. Had the $137 million mistake not been made, they may have been able to fund almost all the proposed lane upgrades. No word yet on where exactly those truck lanes will be constructed. Also, I have heard that Star Solutions mega highway proposal for I-81 is dead.

I haven't see or heard of any particular proposals from the Senate, but I am assuming they will still want some type of tax and/or fee increase. I am sure we will know more soon.

Apparently, the governor has not really put forth any plans at all so far. This is not surprising, since he probably wants to use the transportation issue as a campaign issue to try and take back the House and Senate in 2007.

The last piece of info I have is a proposal by Del. Phil Hamilton that would raise as much as $660 million/year for transportation by letting people bet on horseraces on machines that look similar to ATMs. This would be done at the existing off-track betting parlors in Virginia. It sounds like an interesting proposal, though I imagine it will be met with resistance from the anti-betting folks.

Is anyone hearing anything else?


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