Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Is Virginia Violating the Law?

Is the Virginia General Assembly violating state law? Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, thinks the state may be.

In this article, Houck said by the state going after federal funds for new road projects and cutting maintenance of current roads by 25 percent. he feared Virginia was violating a state law that says maintaining roads must be put before building them.

"While none of these choices are easy, but that seems to be a major, major policy shift that I’m afraid it’s the wrong decision," Houck said. 

"I don’t think the impact of this one has really hit people yet," he said. "We have a constitutional provision that maintenance come first and this is reneging on that proposition."


Do you agree with the senator? Is this the year lawmakers come up with new solutions for the transportation problem in the state? Where’s Harry Byrd when you need him?


Post tags:


  • gramps

    to Mr. Houck that he is remembering this “Virginia Law” at a strange time. Where was he with his law when the GA was cutting VDOT budgets in past years? This smells like a cute little political ploy!

  • lgross

    Basically what is happening is this. There are two gas taxes – a state tax of 17.5 cents and a Federal Tax of 18.4
    cents. The Virginia Constitution requires all maintenance to be funded first and typically the state has used their tax
    for maintenance and use the Federal tax for new construction and maintenance of the Interstates.

    But you can’t get all of the Federal Tax back unless you provide a match for it.

    For the last decade VDOT has been warning that what was left over from the state tax for maintenance – the part
    needed to match the Fed money was shrinking and they warned that at some point, we would start to lose Federal
    money if we did not provide the match.

    That time has arrived – it’s not a contrived event.. Virginia can no longer provide the match money and if we don’t we
    lose even more money.

    Here’s the presentation by Homer Pierce – just 11 pages of really bad news for transportation funding in Va.

    but the part about violating the law…. I dunno… VDOT has maintenance standards… you know esoteric stuff like
    what criteria do they use to decide when to repave a road…… and where does it say how much money or percentage
    must be spent?

    in other words – who decides what constitutents a “well maintained road”?

    how would you prove that VDOT is not maintaining a road if they actually go out and work on it but they don’t do it as
    often as they used to. As long as a road is on the schedule and they go out and do work on it then who can say that
    they are ‘breaking the law”?

    They’ve been cutting back for years… doing more pothole patching rather than full repaving….

  • lgross

    2008 Christopher Newport POLL Results (excerpt):

    Tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree
    with each way to fund transportation improvements in Hampton Roads.

    Issue Item Rating as “Strongly agree” Net Rating – Agree (1-2) vs. Disagree (3-4)

    Through tolls only on new highways and bridges built in Hampton Roads 23 51 – 47

    Through tolls on highways and bridges 20 49 – 48

    An increase in the statewide sales tax 16 50 – 49

    An increase in the statewide gas tax 14 31 – 68

    Not the pure gas tax question – Only 14% strongly support an increase in the state gas tax and 2/3 are opposed.

    this is a consistent poll wherever it is given – in Virginia – and nationwide in fact.

    People tend to support TOLLS about 2-1 over taxes.

    in 2002 NoVa and Hampton Roads voters strongly rejected a trnsportation referenda that was phrased in such as way as to “suggest” some
    projects that “might” be built and the voters slammed it.

    Since that time.. dozens of local referenda have passed – when the specific road projects were named …

    My take away from this is that people don’t want to pay state gasoline taxes because they are afraid (with good reason) that their taxes will
    not come back to their own locality to improve their roads.

    This …because for decades VDOT has has a list of roads – called a 6yr plan that was a joke… no roads got built in 6 years and many sat on
    that list for a decade or more and some never built.

    So I issue this challenge once again.

    Do you know how many dollars in gas tax money Spotsylvania actually generates and do you know how much money we get back as projects?

    so far, no one has answered this question.

    I don’t think the average person has a clue as to how much we actually pay in gas taxes here.

    I don’t think the average person has a clue how much money we get back in projects, maintenance, and operations.

    My point?

    If you don’t know… then how willing are you to put some more into the kitty that goes to Richmond?

    I think more and more people are having that problem.

    That’s way they’ll support tolls on the major roads and referenda at the local level – but no more gas tax delivered to a black hole.

    What Senator Houck is basically saying.. is that without a state level gas tax – we will start to lose the Federal funds – that we paid as gas tax
    locally… because in order for us to get those Fed Funds, we have to provide a match.

    It is no secret that VDOT wants to shed local road responsibilities. We are but one of four states where the State DOT maintains local roads.

    So what Senator Houck is essentially saying to you is this. Do you want to pay additional gas taxes to continue to have your local roads
    maintained or do you want to take care of it locally?

    tough question huh?

  • lgross

    here’s the correct:

    An increase in the statewide gas tax 14 31 – 68

  • dfettero

    The laws regarding the Stimulus money include maintaining current levels of effort and to supplement not supplant existing funding.

  • lgross

    ” “There’s Nothing Left to Allocate”

    For decades state legislators and local officials throughout the
    Commonwealth have argued over the fairness of various
    transportation funding allocations formulas.

    Well, now there will be no more arguing or fighting.

    On June 17, 2009 Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer
    reported to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)
    that Virginia’s transportation funding crisis has reached the
    point that, “There’s nothing left to allocate.”

    The reality is that starting in 2011 there will be zero dollars
    going through formulas to localities for primary, secondary,
    urban or unpaved roads. In fact funds going through formulas
    today are only for contracts already underway.

    The reason is that once debt, maintenance and other
    legislatively mandated obligations are met, not enough dollars
    remain to pass through statewide formulas.”

    what is the point ?

    well, I call it the “blood from a turnip” mindset.

    what part of this is not understood?

    unless you are a person who believes that Virginia/VDOT
    actually have adequate money but are wasting it, etc…
    then the only sane conclusion one can come to is to recognize
    that the current Va gas tax – revenues have fallen below the
    level necessary to not only buy new roads, but even to
    maintain existing ones.

    so what I sorta get out of this is that some folks are saying, in
    effect, that it is “illegal” to not increase the gas tax – sufficient
    to at least pay for maintenance.

    You could do that. One penny statewide brings in about $50
    million. All we need to do is modify the law to automatically
    increase the gas tax – sufficient to fund maintenance.

    But that’s not going to handle new projects needed due to

    the Federal fund is bankrupt also – read this:

    ” Highway Trust Fund Is Nearly Out of Gas”

    so…after we’re all done wailing and gnashing our teeth, at the
    end of the day, the question on the table is this:

    “How much more do you want to pay for transportation and
    through what method”?

    That’s the question that so far.. most folks refuse to deal with.

    some say there’s plenty of money and it’s being wasted.
    Others are in favor of paying more but through a state or
    federal gas tax. Still others favor tolls for new roads and local
    funding of local roads.

    but the option we do not have, and this is what Senator Houck
    was alluding to is – no action.

    If you believe Senator Houck and VDOT – the situation is this -
    there is no longer enough money coming in from the 17.5
    cent gas tax to pay for all the maintenance that needs to be

    VDOT is already cutting back on grass cutting, will close 1/3 of
    it’s maintenance facilities and lay off more than 500 people.

    but all that is going to do is slow down the bleeding…

    the next step – is that VDOT will attempt to divest itself of
    maintenance responsibility for local (secondary) roads.

    Is that legal or constitutional? Well.. not unless or until
    someone brings a legal challenge .. and it gets to the
    Supreme Court and wins…

    until then.. what should be done?

  • dantelvock

    Larry, I had a feeling you would have a field day on this one. Go at it.

  • lgross

    Yes.. transportation is a strong interest of mine
    because it’s at the root of the growth
    management issue and it’s also, at the same
    time a vital and important function that we all
    depend on.

    Finally, it’s something that the average person
    does not understand because the process is not
    transparent at all.. and because of that there is
    little accountability.

    I keep asking for folks to say how much money
    their gas tax generates in Spotsylvania because –
    how can we begin to talk about what is “enough”
    or how much more we “need” if we don’t even
    know the current situation.

    I have yet to find an authoratative reference that
    gives “THE” answer for Spotsylvania but we can
    get pretty close by looking at other data and

    and what I get is about 20 million a year for

    That’s for EVERYTHING… maintenance and
    operations and improvements….

    Spotsylvania’s share of a one cent increase at the
    state level would be on the order of several
    hundred thousands – not millions.

    In order for Spotsylvania to get .. say 5 million a
    year more – the gas tax at the state level would
    have to add about 10 cents a gallon.

    Of course my shtick has been.. if we have to pay
    higher taxes – why send it to Richmond and only
    get 1/2 of it back anyhow?

    why don’t capture it at the local level into a fund
    that the BOS can then establish priorities for.

    And if the good folks of Spotsylvania don’t agree
    with those priorities they can inform the BOS at
    election time.

    I think that is a lot more accountable than
    sending it to Richmond where unelected officials
    will decide how much Spotsylvania will get – but
    more important – what it will be spent on.

    take a look at this – it’ll give you a good idea of
    what kinds of taxes raise what kind of money at
    the State Level and at the NoVa level.

    NoVa has 2.5 million people. FAMPO has 300K.

    You can do the math to get our numbers.

    here’s the chart:

    We have an election coming up and we’re all
    messed up over VRE. People ought to be asking
    Mr. Pitts and Mr. Yak what there views are on
    funding roads in Spotsylvania after we’ve spent
    the piddling amount we’d get from VRE.

  • gramps

    It is my personal view that the info presented by larryg is only the tip of the big picture iceberg.

    All the tolls one can conceive, raising gasoline taxes at the fed and state levels, and all the other revenue producing actions one can achieve may not be enough. Transportation is only one element of a constantly growing financial crisis in VA and elsewhere including the federal government.

    In fact, most of our states and the federal government are existing on borrowed financial time. For all practical purposes we are broke and/or bankrupt. The senseless out of control federal spending of the last decade continues hell-bent as we speak with no sense of control in the offing.

    The irony of this situation is that a good chunk of the indebtedness, with perhaps more coming, was deemed necessary to “save the world economy.” Well, it appears to me that at the current pace there won’t be a lot left of whatever we may have saved.

    So, a few cents more per gallon here and there and whatever road tolls are drummed up may be a mere drop in the tax bucket when it comes to what I suspect it is going to cost us to bail the states and the fed out of “bankruptcy.”

  • lgross

    on the macro – do we think the whole world can
    go “broke”?

    On the micro – do we think VDOT can go broke?

    At the local level – do we think Spotsy can go

    And the answer is – only if your definition of
    “broke” is that there is no more money coming in
    at all at all 3 levels.

    For instance, VDOT is still collecting gas taxes
    and sales taxes at the rate of 2.5 BILLION dollars
    a year – and they are using that money to
    maintain as much as they can.

    I think the fallacy here is thinking that “going
    broke” means no money and that’s just not the

    Instead, it’s more like yourself..having money
    coming in but you’re bumping up against your
    credit card limits.

    Virginia nor VDOT can spend more than they are
    taking in… by law.. but they still are going to
    bring in a LOT of money – even if it is less than

    Again.. it’s not going from some level of money
    to NONE – it’s going to LESS.

    And no matter what level you’re talking about,
    Fed, State or Local – you basically have two
    options – either tax more or cut services.

    Neither choice is particularily appealing to most of
    us but it’s not an all or nothing proposition either.

    so.. at the Spotsylvania level – what do you want
    to do?

    The State and Fed levels are going to do
    whatever they are going to do.. but we do still
    have choices at the Spotsylvania level.

    remember.. it’s not about going from some level
    of money to NONE.. it’s about a change from an
    existing level up or down .. per our local

    I can guarantee everyone that come this FALL
    when the GA meets and come Spring when our
    BOS meets – neither one of them will throw up
    their hands and say “what the heck.. the whole
    situation is hopeless – we give up”.

    so.. no.. you’re not allowed to go hide in the
    closet. we’re grown-ups now (I think).

  • gramps

    I agree…one problem at a time. You have my apologies for throwing a couple of other issues on the table in the middle of your lecture series. I keep forgetting my place here.

    BTW, the FED does have a couple of other choices…It can borrow or print money, both of which have been happening all too often for too da** long. Have you noticed the National Debt lately?

    “We” have been “talking” about Transpo for a number of years now and it is still getting worse. Keep on talking. The folks with the “action” responsibility just do not seem to be listening.

  • lgross

    my apologies for the “lecture”.. guilty as charged – and again..
    sorry I come across that way.

    I get frustrated with the attitudes about transportation in Va –
    which does not seem to change much whether we are having a
    national ‘crisis” or not… same old , same old

    yes.. the Feds can (and will) print money but sooner or later it
    all comes back around.. either through higher inflation or the
    Chinese cut us off (but that won’t help them sell more ‘stuff’).

    yes.. I’ve seen the PROJECTED Debt which I agree is pretty
    scary .. totally agree.. but we did not get here in a few
    days..and it will take a while to deal with the issue.

    I note we did have a balanced budget about 8+ years ago…
    and in that 8 years, we could have decided to fund our
    priorities the “old fashioned way” – PAYGO – on budget.

    but I digress…

    I think the way we ‘do’ transportation is Va is why we have

    As soon as I hear “it’s a state responsibility” my hair catches

    because all that is is code for – “it’s the states job to raise
    taxes on Spotsylvanians” because what else would we expect
    the state to do ?

    do we expect the state to fund transportation by only taxing
    other Virginians?

    do we think Spotsylvania will get more back from the state
    than what we pay into it because we ‘deserve it”?

    and yet.. that’s what hear…

    that.. the “state should fund transportation” and no.. it doesn’t
    really mean that Spotsylvania residents will have to pay higher

    Nope.. because when the State “funds” transportation, it
    apparently comes from some money tree that the state has
    tucked away in downtown Richmond.

    so.. we run away from the problem and our local politicians are
    less than honest with citizens when they say “it’s a state
    responsibility” and in the same breath – the same guy is
    promising to not raise your taxes.

    Yup.. he won’t but he’s in favor of Bobby Orrock and Edd Houck
    raising your taxes.. and then of course he’s run against them
    for their tax & spend ways.

    so my “lecture” is this:

    “there is no free lunch on transportation”

    with this primary corollary

    ” if you approve approve growth – the money to upgrade the
    roads will have to come from somewhere and it won’t come
    from Richmond but instead from you.

    Your only choice is whether you want to pay the county or the
    state (who in theory will send it back to your county).

    sorry about my “lecturing” style.. again.

    I just think it’s silly for grown adults to have their own version
    of the tooth fairy.

  • lgross

    this blowhard’s bilious blather….

    Here’s a pretty compelling snapshot of Transportation Funding in Va – the actual dollars
    and cents that we took in in August this year:

    page 3

    August 2009 Receipts:

    Motor Fuel Taxes $72,954 (millions)
    Priority Transportation Fund (PTF) 4,841
    Motor Vehicle Sales and Use Tax 41,482 (this is the tax on new cars)
    State Sales and Use Tax 41,041 (this is the 1/2% sales tax

    so in August – Virginia took in about 160~ million dollars in Transportation Revenues

    this is not chump change – about 2 Billion dollars on a annual basis.

    What’s the problem? a few years back – it was almost 5 billion dollars.

    It’s not that VDOT is BROKE and Out of Money.. 2 Billion dollars is not “broke”

    and yet the expense of maintaining roads keeps going up – in part – because every
    new subdivision adds to the the cost of maintenance – 400 miles a year in Va (before
    the housing meltdown).

    Those of you who have payed to pave a driveway know what it costs. Think if you had
    to pay to pave and snow plow your “share” of your subdivision or county road.

    so every year, VDOT goes further in the hole on maintenance because what you pay in
    gas taxes is not enough to maintain the roads you use.

    If you lived in most other states – your subdivision and county secondary roads would
    be the resonsibility of the county you lived in and your property taxes would reflect it.

    In Virginia, every city and two counties maintain their own roads. The remaining
    counties expect VDOT to do it.

    “Virginia’s secondary roads arrangement is unusual among the 50 states., Delaware,
    North Carolina, and West Virginia are the only other states in which county roads are
    the responsibility of the state department of transportation (DOT).” (interesting

    In some states, if you live in a subdivision – your HOA would be responsible and would
    assess you an annual fee amounting to hundreds/thousands of dollars so you just
    don’t see as many 5 or 10 acre subdivision roads except for the rich and famous.

  • MAVRICKinc

    Will you guys stop apologizing and get on with it. You haven’t hit this many cylinders in so long, I can’t remember.

    Your in third gear and you no longer need to push on the clutch, or tap the brakes. Just keep your foot on the gas, and don’t look back.

    Simply said, it’s about time you showed up with YOUR homework and started teaching class instead of cleaning erasers and drawing big circles on the blackboard and in the sand.

    I kept all my notes, so we shouldn’t have much of a problem seeing who said what and when or nothing at all.