Vogel: Roads bill ‘definitive legislation’

Posted: May 10, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER— When state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Upperville) headed to Richmond for the General Assembly session in January, she wasn’t expecting much of substance to be taken up.

After all, it was a “short session,” only 45 days. Most of the big state government business is taken up every other year in the long session, when the budget is crafted for a two-year period.

She planned to represent the City of Winchester, the counties of Frederick, Clarke and Fauquier, plus parts of Culpeper, Loudoun and Stafford counties, in some minor tweaking and cleanup of the biennial budget.

“I was terribly wrong,” Vogel told the Rotary Club of Winchester at its Thursday meeting at the Travelodge.

Instead, the legislature finally hammered out a compromise on the first major legislation to increase funding for the state’s transportation system in 27 years. It also put together a commission to study if and how the state will participate in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.

Vogel said the much-debated transportation bill, which passed the legislature with bipartisan support, was “definitive legislation” and long overdue.

“Up until this year, Virginia was number one as the place to locate a business,” Vogel told the Rotarians.

In 2013, the Commonwealth slipped to third place, she said, and for one reason only: transportation.

“We’re number one in having the worst traffic congestion in the nation,” she said.

That’s not conducive to business.

That was the catalyst for a lot of legislators to make transportation funding a priority this year.

According to projections, by 2017, Virginia won’t have enough money to meet the matching funds needed to get federal transportation construction money.

That’s bad, Vogel said, but other projections say the state won’t even have the money to pay to maintain the roads it has.

It was 1986 when the legislature last tackled raising money for transportation issues, she added.

Views on how to solve the current transportation funding woes varied widely.

The “purist” solution was to raise the gasoline tax, so highway users would pay for upkeep and improvements.

But, she said, there was also the view that the state should not raise taxes.

With the state Senate split evenly between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, “nothing passes unless it’s a compromise,” Vogel said.

As a member of the Finance Committee, Vogel said she voted for a number of variations of the transportation bill, but not the final version, which she called, “really convoluted.”

“Lots of people, on all sides, had concerns.”

Vogel said she only had two emails supporting the bill.

Nevertheless, Vogel said passing the bill was still significant.

The second “significant” piece of action during the 2013 General Assembly session was the naming of a commission of five Democrats and five Republicans to hammer out a compromise on what reforms the state can afford, under the Affordable Care Act, to create exchanges to sell insurance to those who not can’t afford it.

“The devil is in the details,” Vogel said.

It is estimated that the health care insurance reforms will cost the state an additional $118 million in Medicaid costs, but if the state does not participate, it will lose $10 billion in federal revenue.

In answer to a question on the transportation bill, Vogel said the legislature split on regional, not party lines, over the bill.

The most important question, she said, is how the state Department of Transportation will prioritize the use of the new money and what projects will be funded, and where.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com