Virginia is now facing the greatest challenges in our modern history, given the radical changes taking place in the economy at home and abroad that require bold, creative new thinking in our state government to find meaningful, sustainable solutions which the state has been unable to do during the last 40 years of rapid growth.
Major issues facing the state include:
- our inability to resolve our planning and transportation problems
- our tax structure that encourages local governments to make bad land use decisions which makes our ability to solve our transportation impossible and does not foster sustainable economic growth
- our local government structure created in Colonial times that does not work in a state of 7.5 million residents
We need new, meaningful efforts from our next governor and the General Assembly to resolve these issues so we can put an end to the political gridlock at the State Capitol. A study group needs to be formed by them representing a cross section of Virginians to formulate a non-partisan plan to tackle these problems.
Such a group needs to use the blue ribbon committees organized by former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton in the 1970s to reorganize state government that led to the creation of the state cabinet system and by former Democratic Gov. Jerry Baliles in the 1980s that led to our last major investment in our transportation system as models.
Virginia should consider a new form of government based on the Portland, Oregon Metropolitan Government - a regional, elected government empowered to deal with planning, transportation and other issues impacting 25 cities and 3 counties with a population of 1.4 million, similar to our Hampton Roads. Metro (www.oregonmetro.gov/), as it is known in Portland, is a vital, positive factor in fostering a high quality of life for the residents in that creative, popular metropolitan area.
Virginia needs to merge our regional planning district commissions and our metropolitan planning organizations, federally mandated regional transportation planning groups, to create a similar new form of government. These merged programs need to reflect the growth patterns today in their organization, given the PDC’s were created in 1968 and only two have been merged since, during more than 40 years of rapid growth in Virginia.
This new form of government need to be elected, have taxing authority, authority to make planning and transportation decisions at the regional level.
Virginia must come to grip with the reality that our tax structure which encourages more commercial real estate than what the market will support needs to be retooled. We do not need more shopping centers, office buildings, industrial buildings and hotels in many of our communities.
I have read that we increased by 100% the amount of retail space in the country from 1990 until 2005, when the economy began to crash. Consumer spending grew only by 14% during that same period - a large portion of that growth was due to loose credit. That means in our state not only do we have excess retail capacity, but excess distribution and warehouse space to supply that system and port capacity to handle goods coming into the country from Asia we no longer need. China has closed more than 80,000 plants because there is no demand for their goods globally.
All signs indicate that the “shop until you drop” culture fueled by debt and using our homes for cash is gone.
But we do need new employment centers that will create 21st century jobs that will pay livable wages for our residents. As is the case for our country, we are faced with the task of rebuilding many segments of our economy. In 1950, 25% of the economy was manufacturing, while 10% was in the financial sector. In 2006, those numbers had reversed- 10% of the economy was manufacturing, while 25 - 30% was in the financial sector.
We do not make things - but we have because a consumer nation that sought to make money off of money - thus the culture that caused the sub prime crisis and the near failure of our financial system. Thus, my suggestion that we need more money for research and development for our universities so we can be more aggressive in creating 21st century products that will give birth to new industries.
The Secretary of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) under this plan should be responsible for insuring a statewide concept for our transportation program and our obligations to federal highway and transportation programs.
Virginia’s state planning function needs to be moved out of the state budget office relative to certain matters and the secretaries of transportation, commerce and environment need to be legally charged with responsibilities to coordinate state efforts and resources with this new program.
Virginia had a state planning department for nearly two decades in the 1960s and 1970s that work with communities. That department was eliminated and merged into the budget office. The state’s failure to play a role in our planning process over the last 40 years was a tragic mistake.
The reality is that in Virginia, as long as we allow growth to take place as it has over the last 40 years, we will always have transportation problems. Local land use decisions create burdens on our system VDOT can’t solve for it does not have the financial nor legal means to do so.
Needless competition between communities create development that has led to many of the dead, vacant retail spaces , for example, we now have around the state that will need to be repositioned, given the decline in the retail sector of our nation’s economy. We now are faced with continued redevelopment needs in our core cities and a similar challenge in our older suburbs.
The recent closing of 19 rest stops in Virginia along our interstate highway system is a memorial to both political parties failure to meet their responsibilities to Virginia’s businesses, residents and our guests.
Voters should no longer accept this conduct by those who wish to represent us in our state government. We need to move the discussion about how we solve our problems to a venue that will produce solutions for us.
Our next governor should be asked to agree to form a non-partisan blue ribbon committee to tackle these problems.
Rodger Provo is a commercial real estate broker based in Fredericksburg currently involved in a variety of green technology projects. He has been a media executive in D.C. and in California and worked as an aide for former Governor Linwood Holton.