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The immobilizers
House Republicans: Road agents, robbing us of our time

Date published: 7/13/2008

GROUCHO MARX reportedly said, "I have my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." Alas for a traffic-mired commonwealth, the Republican caucus of the House of Delegates has only one principle: no new taxes. Here's one hundreds of thousands of Virginian motorists wish it had: do your duty.

However much some Republicans may fantasize about the prospect, private individuals by and large are not going to build and repair the public roads upon which all Virginians depend for efficient mobility. Yet House Republicans, meeting last week with the rest of the General Assembly in special session, for the third time refused to advance statewide transportation bills based on new taxes--a time-proven method of building roads dating to ancient Rome, and tied up with the very definition of civilization.

Gov. Kaine called the session because House Speaker Bill Howell's alternative--a duty-ducking grab bag of financial snips and snails and puppy-dog tails variously declared verboten by the courts, anathema by the citizenry, and void by a sagging economy--in short order came to naught. But House Republicans once again willfully failed to meet their basic legislative responsibility to produce critical infrastructure. Think about that dereliction when a formerly three-hour trip down I-64 to the beaches takes five or six, or when the minutes of your life dribble away in a Northern Virginia that is pushing its frontier of traffic frustration ever deeper into Greater Fredericksburg.

The causes of this astounding inaction are several, but one is ideological: It is the modern Republican belief, at a visceral level, that government is bad and taxation is theft. This idea--less "conservative" than radically libertarian--is, like most cranky simplifications, harmless when embraced by a scattering of sour bellies. But government-haters in government make no more sense than muggers in the police department or arsonists in the fire station. Such mismatches predictably produce unhappiness.

The latest obstruction in Richmond is, however, clarifying. It verifies, almost according to the scientific method, that Virginians can have an effective transportation system, or they can have a Republican majority in the House of Delegates. "Or," not "and." The next election will settle which Virginians hold more important.