RICHMOND—Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) marveled at the novel theory of the purpose of the General Fund advanced by Senate Democrats in opposition to securing funding set aside for transportation projects.
"With all due respect to my friends across the aisle, they seem to be a little confused about what the General Fund is and why we have it," said Obenshain. "And for all the talk about transportation this session, Senate Democrats sounded distinctly opposed to making transportation the priority most of us know it to be. After all, how can they possible claim to be for better roads when they try to block spending even surplus money on transportation?"
Members of both parties have long called for a transportation "lockbox" protecting the Transportation Trust Fund from raids for unrelated expenditures. The General Assembly created a trust fund to collect transportation-specific revenues, including the gas tax, but unlike other trust funds on the books of the Commonwealth, this one has never been secured against raids, something Senator Obenshain sought to accomplish with SJ 275, the Transportation Lockbox Amendment.
Democrats responded by amending the resolution to simultaneously prohibit any general fund revenues – and even surplus dollars – from being spent on transportation projects, with Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) asserting that funds "borrowed" from the General Fund for transportation projects are never repaid and Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) going so far as to characterize the application of any portion of a budget surplus to needed transportation projects as a "de facto raid on the General Fund" in comments delivered on the Senate floor.
"It is a General Fund. It is there to fund our priorities, whether they are transportation, education, or law enforcement. If we need to do those things, that's what we have a General Fund for," said Obenshain. "Those are the basic priorities of government, and it's absurd to leave transportation out of the equation."
Addressing Senator Petersen's opposition to using surplus dollars for transportation projects, Obenshain said, "If we have money left over at the end of the year, we ought to put it toward our top priorities, and anyone who thinks that transportation doesn't count as a top priority really hasn't been paying attention."
Commenting on Senator Saslaw's assertion that monies expended from the General Fund should be repaid, Obenshain observed, "It is a General Fund, not a General Trust Fund. We don't pay back the General Fund every time we pay for schools at the expense of health care, or health care at the expense of law enforcement, or law enforcement at the expense of anything else. That's not how it works. The General Fund is the basic operating fund for state government, and if transportation isn't enough of a priority to justify an expenditure – especially from a surplus! – I don't know what is."
The Democratic floor substitute was adopted on a 22-17 vote, at which time Senator Obenshain moved to have the bill stricken from the calendar. Said Obenshain, "Instead of working to ensure that the necessary funds flow to transportation, Dick Saslaw and his Democratic allies tried to hijack the Amendment to cut off existing funding. We've heard a lot of talk from all sides about how urgent a priority transportation is. I would submit to my Democratic colleagues that it's well past time for them to show that they mean it."
Mark Obenshain has served in the Senate of Virginia since 2004, and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Virginia.
ON THE WEB:
SJ 275: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=131&typ=bil&val=sj275