Speaker Bill Howell wrote a good op-ed today, perhaps the blogosphere (me included) rushed to judgement too fast? I'll let you decide:
Highway Hyperbole Look at the facts
June 27, 2007 12:35 am
IN MONDAY'S lead edi- torial, "Sherwood Forest drive," you did a disservice to your readers by stating as "fact" several mischaracterizations of the fees to be assessed upon drivers who habitually violate Virginia's traffic laws.
The enactment of the fees you disingenuously claim were "slipped over on us" by the General Assembly is the one aspect of the Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act of 2007 included in respective plans advanced by Gov. Kaine, the Senate, and the House in both 2006 and 2007. To insinuate that the passage of a plan that had received such widespread bipartisan support through two General Assembly sessions was a legislative "sleight of hand" is absurd.
Of greater concern, your editorial left the impression that good drivers--those not already subject to existing penalties for a high number of driver demerit points on their licenses--would somehow be billed thousands of dollars for the slightest infraction. Such hyperbole, the mainstay of extreme partisans and the stuff of their blogs, is unsuitable for a publication such as The Free Lance-Star.
The reason the respective transportation plans advanced by the governor, the Senate, and the House all included abuser fees is simple: These fees have a proven track record of increasing road safety and supplementing transportation revenues. Moreover, they affect a tiny percentage of drivers--only those who most flagrantly abuse the rules of our roads.
Had this law been in effect during the last several years, the Kaine administration estimates that fewer than 150,000 Virginia drivers--about 2.5 percent of licensed drivers in the state--would have been subject to its provisions. A great many of those individuals could have alleviated their obligation by taking a safe-driving course.
Contrary to the claims of the program's detractors, no one has ever been arrested, charged, and convicted of reckless driving for failure to give a proper turn signal. Under the "abuser fees" provision of HB 3202, those who obey the laws or have an occasional traffic infraction will pay nothing more. The contention that those committing the smallest infractions would somehow be subjected to $3,000 in charges directly contradicts the intent and letter of the law.
Moreover, the idea that these fees would be disproportionately assessed upon the young, the poor, or the elderly is wholly without foundation. Indeed, only those who regularly abuse their driving privileges would be subjected to these charges--and rightly so.
A cursory check of the facts would have found that abuser fees have worked successfully in New Jersey, where the number of demerit points drivers have accrued for dangerous driving has fallen since that state's fees were introduced. The direct results of Virginia's plan will be better driving, safer roads, less traffic congestion due to accidents, and more money for transportation.
Free Lance-Star editorials also have taken issue with the fiscally responsible use of bonds to finance over- due improvements to the state's transportation infrastructure. But with construction costs rising 15 to 20 percent annually, Virginia would be foolish not to invest now when interest rates are near historic lows-- around 4 to 5 percent--and costs are rising at four times that rate.
The Free-Lance Star has consistently advocated an increase in the state gasoline tax to finance transportation improvements, but you have not accurately estimated just how great that increase would have to be to generate the revenues achieved through the recently passed transportation act. To obtain the funding needed by our most congested regions--Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads--Virginia would have to increase its per-gallon gas tax to somewhere near 50 cents.
Furthermore, unlike the abuser fees, that increase would not be restricted to a relatively small portion--2.5 percent--of Virginia's drivers. Everyone would pay more--a lot more--every time they filled up.
By eschewing short-term partisan gain and instead focusing on finding solutions to transportation challenges, I sponsored compromise legislation that will improve conditions on our roads.
The abuser-fee component of the Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act of 2007 won widespread, bipartisan support because it has a proven record, provides relief to hard-pressed commuters, and will improve the conditions on our roadways by encouraging safe driving practices.
And in the DCPost, Democrat Gov. Tim Kaine had this to say:
"I don't have the ability to give driving instructions to 7 1/2 million Virginians, but hopefully the prospect of stiff fines will make people drive right," said Kaine, who has been pushing for the fees since taking office last year.
. . .
"People overwhelmingly were saying, 'Fix traffic problems.' It takes money to do it," Kaine said