I have to admit that the last thing I ever thought I would be writing about is transportation. As Virginia Education Association (VEA) President, my main concerns center primarily around funding for Virginia's public schools and advocating for the children of the Commonwealth. Given the problems that Bob McDonnell's proposed transportation plan would cause Virginia's public schools, however, I feel compelled to speak out.
The McDonnell plan is cause for concern on two grounds. First, the plan reopens the debate regarding taking funds from the General Fund to build roads. McDonnell's plan destroys the line between the state's General Fund, which has traditionally supported schools and other core services, and the Non-General Fund, which has historically been used for our roads.
McDonnell's proposal is particularly troubling given that it is a fact that current revenues are already insufficient to fund our public schools and other core public services such as public safety. The Board of Education, the Governor, and the General Assembly are, in fact, considering permanent cuts of $340 million per year to Virginia's school funding formula. This is absolutely the wrong time to pit the interests of the construction industry against Virginia's school children.
A second concern is that, once again, Virginians are being served up a plan for solving a critical problem that our economic future absolutely depends upon, with a plan that is largely based upon highly speculative assumptions. Let me offer some questions for readers to consider:
Can we really assume either a budget surplus or new revenue growth in the near future? If you answer, "No," subtract $136 million from the McDonnell plan.
Do you think that Pennsylvania's unapproved federal application to toll I-80 in that state establishes legal precedence and, therefore, a clear path to Virginia tolling I-81 and I-95? If that's not clear, subtract another $50 million.
My understanding is that the cost of extracting offshore oil is $100 a barrel. When the price of oil is $64 a barrel, what investor is going to go drilling off Virginia's shore looking to make a profit? Aside from that, both the Navy and NASA oppose offshore drilling in Virginia for defense related reasons. And let us not forget that there are environmental issues to be considered as well. If that plan doesn't pan out, subtract another $177 million a year from McDonnell's proposal.
Without a doubt, Virginia's transportation needs pose serious problems that deserve serious proposals. From my perspective, the problem with McDonnell's proposal is that a major portion of the money to be used would be taken away from our already financially strapped public schools. Virginians want and deserve a serious solution to our transportation crisis. I do not believe that they want to solve the transportation crisis by taking revenue from Virginia's schools and its children.