Congratulations are due to Governor-elect Tim Kaine. He ran a long and hard race, but now that the campaigning is over the hard work begins. It’s time to deliver on your campaign promises and make your mark over the next four years. Hopefully, he’ll leave the Commonwealth in a better place.
The Commonwealth has proven its resiliency, charging forward with rapid economic expansion. Governor-elect Kaine will enter office with a robust and strong economy behind him. Hippocrates, the author of the Hippocratic Oath advises to “first, do no harm.”
Editorial pages throughout the state have long chronicled the significant growth in state government in the last decade. The strong economy has led to overflowing state coffers-tax collections from all sources in September increased by 11.2 percent over the same month a year ago. And, for the first quarter of this fiscal year, which began July 1, state revenues are up by 14.5 percent over the same period in 2004.
Spending is out of control. On an annualized basis, the Commonwealth’s budget has more than doubled-it’s expected that Gov. Warner will have an additional $3 or $4 billion to play with as he prepares his final budget. The challenge to Gov.-elect Kaine is simple-reverse this trend and break the cycle of unsustainable budget growth. Failure to do so could spell disaster for the Commonwealth in years to come. Any unforeseen bump in the economy could leave us teetering on the edge of financial disaster.
We need to get people moving again. It is time we admit we don’t have the resources we need to build, repair, and upgrade our roads-but more importantly that we can’t simply add taxes to get us there. The time is now for toll roads to take on a great role in Virginia. They’re not new but they hold tremendous promise to fix our infrastructure needs and get people moving—so they can continue to be the economic engine to drive the Commonwealth forward.
On Nov. 16, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) commended the Virginia Department of Transportation officials for its willingness to consider and study tolling alternatives to relieve congestion on the capitol beltway. This is an important first step, but one that should be aggressively pursued by the next administration.
In addition, the Commonwealth should consider divesting or leasing existing toll roads to bring private capital and expertise to management and operations. Indeed, five different bids have been submitted to operate the Dulles Toll Road-any of these initiatives would net at least $1 billion to the Commonwealth. The administration should actively pursue this initiative and others including operation of the Pocahontas Parkway and possibly even the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
Unfortunately, during the campaign, a centerpiece of your transportation plan was curbing “out of control growth and irresponsible development.” This rhetoric is dangerous. It would be terribly damaging to our economy to choke off development because of its potential impact on transportation. Given the amount of time it takes for infrastructure to catch up, we’d never get anything built.
And in terms of the housing market, this would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. Home prices in Northern Virginia have been growing at nearly double-digit rates over the last few years. The median sales price in the metro area currently stands at $380,000, with only a third of area homes affordable to families making the median income of $86,000. Artificially restricting the housing supply would only drive prices higher, preventing many Virginians from realizing their dreams of home ownership.
While there are many challenges facing the new Kaine administration, keeping the economy strong, controlling government spending, and getting people moving again should be at the top of everyone’s list. Courage, and common sense will prove valuable and lead the Commonwealth to even more prosperity.
Geoffrey F. Segal is the director of government reform at Reason Foundation.