Del. Sickles Takes a (Rhetorical) Sickle to Bob McDonnell and Pat Mullins

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    A few days ago, we posted about RPV Chair Pat Mullins’ outright lies about “Democrat legislators,” as he calls them in typical, immature, infantile, grammatically incorrect style. At the time, Sen. Mark Herring pointed out that Mullins was absolutely incorrect when he claimed that no Democrat had answered his summons for help (HELP!!!) to Bob McDonnell on transportation.  In fact, Sen. Herring had indeed responded, in detail. Now, we have another response to Pat Mullins, this time from Del. Mark Sickles. It’s highly amusing, so enjoy; I’ve bolded parts I particularly enjoyed.

    Response sent from Delegate Mark Sickles

    December 15, 2010

    Mr. Pat Mullins

    Chairman, Republican Party of Virginia

    115 E. Grace Street

    Richmond, VA  23219

    Dear Pat,

    So nice to hear from you!  While we’ve certainly missed you since you moved to Bumpass, Fairfax County has enjoyed enormous success since you left. I am not saying that the there was a cause and effect to your departure, but under reasonable, thoughtful leadership here, our residents enjoy a relatively high standard of living. We are providing our students with a first class education and succeeding with limited assistance from the Commonwealth, although our economic success is keeping Virginia solvent.

    We do have significant transportation challenges.  Thanks to federal earmarks from Sen. John Warner, Rep. Frank Wolf, Rep. Tom Davis, and our current formidable congressional delegation, we have been able to build some significant regional transportation projects despite our declining, inflation-eroded, dedicated non-General Fund revenue sources.  Virginia has, so far, been able to scratch together the 10-20 percent non-federal share whenever that has been required. Our commercial landowners and toll road drivers are financing rail to Dulles and beyond with vital and integral federal dollars and without State support. Due to your recent political successes, however, the prospects are grim for similar federal dollars to backfill the State’s ongoing disinvestment in transportation.

    It would be good to get some transportation help from Richmond, but we can already borrow money inexpensively without assistance. A State that obligates future General Fund resources to build roads today simply inflicts a back door cut to higher education down the road.

    The need for new transportation revenue is evident to anyone who has studied our system. As Ronald Reagan, who himself raised the gas tax, once said: “facts are stubborn things.”  The General Fund is already stretched thin. We have a growing K-12 population. Our Medicaid program is ranked 48th in helping our disabled, poor children and the elderly. We have more than 5,000 families with disabled children on a waiting list for services.  Higher education has been cut to the bone, a problem Governor McDonnell pledges to turn around.

    At one point, these facts were clear to the Governor.  Attorney General McDonnell was highly engaged in the passage of Speaker Howell’s bill, H.B. 3202, a bill that raised new, desperately needed, dedicated revenue.  When local governments objected to having a State responsibility dumped on them, General McDonnell worked with Governor Kaine to split the responsibility between a (unconstitutional) taxing authority and the localities. There was no warning from the AG that the new local taxing power was unconstitutional in the run up to approval in the 2007 reconvened session. You might be surprised to know that H.B. 3202 included authority for a 2 percent gas tax in Hampton Roads. After the unanimous defeat of the Speaker’s bill on constitutional grounds, Governor Kaine introduced two real revenue bills: neither included a gas tax.

    Therefore, one answer to your taunt is for the General Assembly to enact the very same taxes that we authorized the transportation authorities to enact in 2007. Until a week ago, at least two senior Northern Virginia Republicans were planning to introduce such a bi-partisan bill in the upcoming session, but for some reason, their plans changed. Delegate Vivian Watts. will now introduce the bill herself and I will be happy to co-patron her bill.

    In case you are not aware, transportation is funded almost solely across the United States by dedicated transportation revenues. We have four in Virginia: the gas tax, 0.5 percent of the retail sales tax, the three percent titling tax paid upon the purchase of an automobile, and annual vehicle licenses. In 1986, the state gas tax was raised from 15 to 17.5 cents per gallon. The gas tax provides the lion’s share of our funding (unfortunately, now down to 39 percent of the total) and was once considered a “user fee” by Republican leaders. You can look that up. Nobody ever expected the 1986 gas tax increase to be the final increase, forever and ever.  Since it is per gallon tax, its purchasing power has been eroded by more than half over the last 24 years while Virginia grew by more than two million people, the number of cars by 70 percent, and the number of vehicle miles traveled by 100 percent.

    The Governor’s plan does not come with a dedicated, reliable revenue stream to retire the new debt. While I disagree with Delegate Brenda Pogge’s position that “we should sit tight and let the economy get well” before passing a real transportation program, she is certainly right when she says “we should not be borrowing and spending” and that debt proposal is “too much” and that “we can’t afford it right now.” As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession-we are in the 15th month of modest economic growth-there will be some revenue from increasing retail sales and car sales, but not enough to build the projects we need to move Virginia forward.  It will not fill the gaping maintenance deficit nor ensure safe Metro trains.  We need $1 billion more each year, not debt that will just put us further behind in years ahead.

    Pat, thank you for taking me back to the good ole days when we could count on you to get our people pumped and to the polls on Election Day. A good high schoolish taunt over the internet is not quite as good as debating you face to face, and I apologize for such a wonkish response, but I tell my constituents that we are simply going to have to wait out the next three years for a meaningful opening to restore the purchasing power of our dedicated transportation revenues to 1986 levels. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

    Very best for the holidays,

    Mark D. Sickles

    Hahahaha. 🙂

    • Mr. Pat Mullins

      Chairman

      Republican Party of Virginia

      115 E. Grace Street

      Richmond, VA  23219

      Dear Pat:

      Your letter of December 10 to the Senate and House of Delegates Democratic Caucuses seems almost frantic in tone!

      Clearly you recognize the transportation funding problem in the Commonwealth.

      As you say in your letter, “we’ve all spent hours stuck in traffic jams caused by roads with too few lanes, too many pot holes, and too many cars.  There’s not a person in Virginia who doesn’t want to see this problem fixed.”

      Interestingly, you do not plead for us to get behind Governor Bob McDonnell’s plan for fixing transportation – you know the plan that the Governor said he had during his campaign.

      You never asked us to get behind the Governor’s plan to triple the number of liquor stores in Virginia while giving up a steady stream of income to only get enough one-time money to build a highway interchange.

      You never told us to “drill, baby, drill” in order to fix our roads and expand mass transit.

      Nor did you endorse the Governor’s latest Washington-like borrowing proposal that would shift $4 billion in costs to future generations while amassing the greatest debt Virginians have ever experienced.  You did not ask us to support the use of paper toll-credits as matching funds not unlike the financing schemes financial institutions were using before the most recent bank failures.

      No place in your letter did I see you ask us to risk our triple-A bond rating or our best managed state recognition to go along with these borrow and spend proposals.

      Your letter did not even mention the latest “lock box” proposal to prevent the transfer of transportation funds to schools, police, and mental health programs while at the same time increasing the amount of money taken from these programs to fund transportation.

      Instead your letter in a tone that I can only read as frantic pleads with us to give you some ideas.  “What we need are ideas,” your letter says in the second paragraph.  You mention “ideas” a dozen times in your letter.

      I believe that you can see what the public has already been able to see.

      There is no Republican plan to fix our transportation problems.  Now you plead with Democrats to give you ideas.

      All the audits that were promised are yet to produce one new nickel for transportation.  Offshore drilling will not provide a dime for transportation in our lifetime.  Selling liquor stores is a terrible deal for taxpayers.  And the borrowing of billions may be the way it is done in Washington, D.C., but it has never been the Virginia way except for Governor Gilmore who amassed such debt that we are still paying it off.

      Governor McDonnell was correct in his most recent statements that this is the time to fix our transportation infrastructure when prices are low and we have people to put to work.  He sounded almost like President Obama promoting his stimulus spending plan.

      Your party controls two of the three bodies necessary to pass legislation, the House of Delegates and the Governor.  The people expect you to lead.  I do not think that your explanation in the next election cycle for your failure to lead that “Democrats did not give us any ideas” will likely resonate favorably with voters.

      It was always said that only Nixon could go to China.  Only Governor Bob McDonnell can solve Virginia’s transportation problems.  But in order to do so, he needs to get out from behind the lame excuse that Democrats will not give him any ideas.

      May I suggest that you inform the Governor of the dialogue we have had with this exchange of letters.  He will see that neither party, Republican or Democrat, supports his current plan of action.  Tell him about your drop box in the atrium of Republican headquarters on Grace Street.  Invite him to drop something in it.

      The Governor needs to be what you term “The Architect of our Transportation Solution.”  We will join you in applauding him when he proposes a real solution rather than gimmicks and borrowing for which you obviously also have some aversion.

      I return to you the hope expressed in your letter that this finds you well and in good spirits this holiday season.  As you said and with which I fully concur, “We truly live in a beautiful Commonwealth, and that beauty is especially pronounced around the holidays.”

      Happy holidays,

      Kenneth R. Plum

      Chair, House Democratic Caucus