Driver fees and the GOP
Story by Chris Graham
Conservative activist John Taylor noted with interest the story in The Daily Progress about Central Virginia Republican Del. Bill Janis coming out in support of changes to the controversial abusive-driver fees that have had GOP lawmakers on the defensive the past couple of months.
“Now it’s almost a daily event that Republicans are coming out and saying, I voted for this, that was wrong, we need a special session, we need to get rid of these abuser fees, we need to get rid of this entire bill,” said Taylor, the president of Tertium Quid and the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition, who has been a loud critic of Republican Party leaders in the Virginia General Assembly on the driver-fees issue and other parts of the transportation-funding compromise that was adopted and signed into law in April.
Taylor seems to be on with his assessment that Republicans are running from the driver fees and the rest of the transportation-funding bill almost on a daily basis. This week, even the two main architects of the bill, House Speaker Bill Howell and Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch, pledged to take action relative to the driver-fees portion of the bill, backing provisions aimed at applying the fees to out-of-state drivers, eliminating abuser fees for Class 3 and Class 4 misdemeanors, re-evaluating fees for other more serious offenses for their applicability, reassessing Virginia’s reckless-driving statute and giving judges greater discretion to waive abuser fees for those subjected to them for driving on a suspended license where the suspension was solely due to failure to pay a fine or fee.
“We are prepared to detail legislative modifications that will ensure that these fees are clearly limited to those drivers committing the most serious offenses and those who repeatedly violate the rules of the road,” said Howell, R-Stafford.
“Contrary to those who advocate repealing this measure outright, we, along with the governor, want to fix it. We must not abandon this critical safety measure, but join the ranks of other states that are successfully taking action and avoiding this tragic trend.” Stosch said.
Adding their names to the chorus in the wake of the announcement from Howell and Stosch were Republicans like Sixth District Sen. Nick Rerras and 26th District Del. Matt Lohr – whose offices sent out similarly worded press releases – and 26th District Sen. Mark Obenshain, who notes that he is one of the few on the GOP side of the aisle in either house of the General Assembly who can say that he voted against the driver fees.
“I believed then that it was not a good solution to the problem, and I believe now that it’s not a good solution to the problem,” Obenshain said in an interivew on this week’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
Which is what has John Taylor wondering aloud why it was that Republican leaders seized on the driver fees and another controversial part of the funding plan, the transportation authorities that were created in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that have local taxing authority, as the solution to the problem.
“The idea going into this last session of the General Assembly was that the Republicans had to address transportation in hopes of keeping their seats in the Senate and the House in Northern Virginia,” Taylor said in an interview on “The New Dominion Show” this week.
“The idea was we had better address transportation, or we’re going to lose Northern Virginia. This has just blown up in their face – because eight months ago, they were thinking, We only have the Senate by three seats, and that’s what we’ve got to protect. Well, now, thanks to this transportation bill, the Republicans are acknowledging that they could lose both houses of the General Assembly. The very folks that they were trying to please in Northern Virginia are the folks that don’t like the bill,” Taylor said.
Democratic candidates across the state, for their part, are poised and ready to pounce.
“Once again, we hear Republicans sticking with the plan to turn our police officers into tax collectors, which is no way to solve the transportation crisis that Northern Virginians face every day,” said Janet Oleszek, the Democrat who is challenging GOP incumbent Ken Cuccinelli in the 37th Senate District.
“Transportation funding requires steady, reliable funding sources,” said Stephen Heretick, the Democrat challening Republican incumbent Fred Quayle in the 13th Senate District. “After years of failing to provide real leadership on this issue, and to afford our region a real plan to pay for the new roads and bridges we critically need, and to maintain those we have which are failing, all they can come up with is a flimsy Band-Aid.”
“The next session of the General Assembly should not adjourn and stay in session until we can show working Virginians we have real leadership in Richmond who can provide real solutions to our very real problems. I think the next General Assembly should commit itself to remain in session, until it can look Virginians in the eye and offer real solutions to our transportation needs. Anything less is not leadership,” Heretick said.
“It is time the legislature faced reality,” said Karen Schultz, the Democratic nominee in the 27th Senate District, who is challenging Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel for the seat held by the retiring Russ Potts.
“This is a bad idea, plain and simple,” Schultz said. “Promoting safety on our roads and funding badly needed transportation infrastructure are separate issues and should be treated that way. The abuser fees must be repealed and replaced with a reliable source of funding.”
Politics makes for strange bedfellows – on that point, Democrats like Schultz and Republicans like Taylor agree wholeheartedly.
“We think this bill is just fundamentally flawed – for a number of reasons. There’s a lot of attention being given today to the abuser-fee parts of the bill and these enormous traffic fines that people are having to pay. But we think the whole House Bill 3202 is flawed, and it needs to be scrapped – and we need to go back to the drawing board,” Taylor said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.