HEADLINES : Virginia
Beneath drama and politics of budget brinksmanship lay the issue of Virginia highway funding
RICHMOND, Va. - Beneath the political drama of last week's Senate standoff that nearly derailed the state budget for the third time in two months lurked the overlooked issue of sustained Virginia transportation funding.
The Senate's 20 united Democrats took a black eye Tuesday when they initially blocked passage by demanding more money for the Dulles rail project in the Democrat-friendly suburbs of Washington, D.C. They lost when one of their own switched his vote Wednesday, allowing the budget to pass.
Another protracted partisan budget stalemate in an evenly divided Senate risked state services and construction project shutdowns, and would have left local governments' budgets in limbo.
When it appeared that the Senate's 20 Republicans couldn't secure the necessary 21st vote to pass the $85 billion budget Tuesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell and other Republicans lashed the Democrats for playing politics. Bemoaning politics in the General Assembly is like attending a NASCAR race and complaining about fast driving.
Virginia has struggled in recent years just to pay for upkeep of its existing highways. That legal obligation has first claim over state transportation revenue, mostly from the 17½ cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. The tax, unchanged since 1987, yields less money each successive year as pump prices drive down discretionary driving and engines become more efficient. New projects that could alleviate northern Virginia's perpetual blacktop gridlock, like a Washington Metro transit rail link to Dulles, get what's left after the maintenance needs are met.