In his first State of the Commonwealth address, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine sought legislation giving localities the zoning power to slow development if it overwhelms local transportation.
Kaine, a Democrat, also asked the Republican-run General Assembly to preserve major funding provisions in former Gov. Mark R. Warner’s final budget, including, $232 million for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
The speech, though, was dominated by transportation needs, which he defined as the most urgent need before the state.
He called on the House and Senate to approve the $625 million in one-time general fund revenues Warner placed into the budget. “However, a long-term reliance on general fund dollars for transportation is a road to fiscal disaster, a road paved with school books, nursing home beds and public safety resources.”
For the future, he also asked legislators to “make plain to all Virginians that dedicated transportation funds only will be used for transportation.”
“I will veto any budget that violates that promise and diverts Transportation Trust Fund dollars away from transportation purposes,” he said, advocating a constitutional amendment to outlaw legislative raids on the state’s chief operations fund during tight budget times.
But he said increased transportation funding needs to go hand-in-hand with measures that give local governments more authority to control development.
“We cannot allow uncoordinated development to overwhelm our roads and infrastructure,” he said. “This important and necessary step is not anti-
development, but it recognizes that new thinking about development is needed.”
Kaine said local governments need the leeway to slow suburban sprawl where streets and highways are inadequate to handle it, a proposal that alarms Virginia’s muscular real estate and development lobby.
“Our current system, in which local governments make land use decisions and the state follows behind with transportation planning and funding creates a situation where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Kaine said.
The fate of Kaine’s sprawl control program was uncertain; several efforts in recent years to give counties more authority over development have floundered in the General Assembly, and home builders launched a lobbying blitz to head off the new proposal, saying it would drive up the cost of homes and push development farther from urban cores.
Home builder Craig Havenner told the Washington Post that the proposal “would, in fact, result in a complete moratorium in the construction of new housing in Northern Virgina.”
But plans for greater spending on water quality were on track. In late January, House Republicans held a press conference, led by Speaker William Howell, declaring their support for $240 million in the budget for the Bay cleanup.
That would include $200 million to help finance wastewater treatment plant upgrades and $40 million to help farmers reduce farm runoff. The lawmakers also said they would back legislation aimed at providing oversight and accountability on how the money will be spent.
Environmental groups were also hoping for the approval of legislation that would provide a permanent source of funding for water cleanup programs. Nearly 1,000 activists rallied at the capital, waving signs supporting such a proposal in January. One sign, making the link between clean water and the Bay’s low abundance of aquatic vegetation, read, “Seagrass? Me Neither.”