What do property rights and the suddenly found surplus at VDOT have to do with each other? Unfortunately, a lot.
First, a little more detail than yesterday’s post, which was based on early reports. As it turns out, the much asked for (and denied administratively by the previous two governors as well as legislatively by General Assembly tax-and-spenders) private audit of VDOT found more than $500 million buried in a hole or sitting in a closet. That was for only the most recent fiscal year. A cumulative amount, from all sources, including something akin to unused federal funding credits, totals $1.45 billion! The reasons ranged from projects coming in under budget (good) but the unused money not then reallocated to other or new projects (bad), to money stashed away from canceled projects (really bad), and a reserve fund (on top of the “Rainy Day Fund”) that was never used and allowed to accumulate excesses of unneeded cash (incredibly inept).
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s not exactly as easy as 2 + 2 = 4, but that’s exactly why conservatives for years have asked for a private audit. Governor Bob McDonnell administration deserves credit for an excellent first step in VDOT and state government reform. He also has found a way to put much of this money to work within weeks. As the governor said, we’ve been sitting in traffic while the money has been sitting in the state’s wallet — all while General Assembly liberals and former Governor Tim Kaine tried to ram tax increase after tax increase at us for transportation.
That’s unforgivable governance. But what’s worse is the arrogance of VDOT and local governments in opposing one of the most important bills during the 2010 General Assembly — HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) — which would have provided property owners a mechanism to get full and just compensation when government took their land through eminent domain. In what can now be exposed as nothing less than despicable, VDOT slapped a speculative $40 million (over five years) Fiscal Impact Statement on the bill. Speculative because there was no fixed cost to the bill, only a legal process to allow property owners a fair shake at compensation.
VDOT, in essence, was admitting that it underpays property owners, never mind the impropriety of a state agency using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to sabotage the rights of those very same taxpayers, by meddling in the legislative process. But that didn’t stop the agency from crying poverty, saying it couldn’t “afford” it, and that it hardly had the money it needed to keep up with basic maintenance. Not ironically, it teamed with those same government-at-all-costs (literally) legislators to kill the bill in the Senate Finance Committee (some of whom had additional nefarious reasons) after it passed the House 98-1. All while hoarding $1.45 billion of taxpayer money.
So, this revelation has several layers of repercussions. Not only has there been mismanagement and an attempt to raise taxes for no reason, certain legislators and government bureaucrats have trampled on constitutional rights and used our tax money to do so. That’s one big intersection of devious interests that VDOT has no business building.