With Labor Day behind us, the campaign for Virginia’s next governor shifts into high gear. As the first major election in a so-called “purple state” since President Obama took office, the race is being touted as a bellwether of sorts for national political landscape.
But as every wise politician knows, all politics is local. As such, the outcome on November 3 will be more heavily influenced by issues arising within the state’s borders, rather than what’s been going on across the Potomac.
Transportation bears special attention, as it’s the challenge that term-limited Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and a divided state legislature have talked most about for the past four years, but have found the least common ground for action. Their one successful compromise—a 2007 measure that gave regional authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads taxation power to move projects forward—was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, revenue shortfalls have caused VDOT to repeatedly trim its six-year road improvement schedule, lay off hundreds of works, and shutter many of its interstate rest areas. Even Virginia’s string of successful PPTA transportation initiatives suffered a setback last month with postponement of the 395/95 HOT lanes project.
So what do the candidates propose to do about transportation?
Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell vows no change to Virginia’s gas tax, which has been 17.5 cents per gallon since the mid-1980s. His plan calls for generating additional transportation dollars from the privatization of state-owned liquor stores, adding tolls to some existing highways, tapping state budget surpluses, and seeking $4 billion in transportation bonds.
Democrat State Sen. Creigh Deeds has offered fewer specifics for addressing transportation, pledging instead to come up with plan in his first year as Governor. Not unexpectedly, Deeds’ vagueness has been criticized as a sign that he’ll seek a tax increase. (On the other hand, nearly 20 years of service in a sometimes fractious state legislature may have taught him a few things about staking out positions on contentious issues.) Deeds also sees a role for P3s, but on a more limited scale than what McDonnell calls for.
Whoever wins will still have to contend with a divided state legislature. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election on November 3, but experts currently predict continued Republican control of the chamber. Democrats hold a slim majority in the 40-seat State Senate.
Naturally, a lot can happen between now and Election Day, and after the new governor and legislature begin work in January. But with the expected slow, uneven pace of economic recovery in the state coupled with a track record of political stalemate, and no federal TEA help on the horizon, Virginia’s design and construction industry must hope that the new administration in Richmond succeeds at delivering a healthy dose of patience before trying to deliver on its promises.