There’s been a lot of talk about the tax aspects of Governor Bob McDonnell’s restructuring of transportation revenue sources, with the latest wrinkle coming from the center-left Commonwealth Institute, which observes that the governor’s proposal to shift from the motor fuels tax to the sales tax would disproportionately hurt the poor. According to CI’s new report, “Hit and Run: Virginia’s Transportation Hike Hits Low-Income Virginians Hardest,” Virginians in the bottom income quintile would see their taxes rise by 0.21%, while Virginians in the Top 1% would see taxes rise only 0.05%. By and large, Republicans really won’t care, but if any Dems were inclined to support the governor’s bill, those numbers would put them in a real bind.
However, I have not seen anyone focus on the biggest spending component of the plan — $300 million dedicated to the Rail-to-Dulles project, provided that governance reforms for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) outlined by the U.S. Transportation inspector general are adopted. The long-term goal of the tax reform is to replenish funds distributed by formula to all corners of the state. But for the first three years, roughly half the new funds raised for construction would be funneled to Northern Virginia.
The governor’s press release describing that set-aside provided no details on exactly how it would be used. But it’s a good bet that the funds would be applied to paying down the tolls charged to users of the Dulles Toll Road, the main piggy bank for the heavy rail project. That $300 million would be in addition to $150 in state funds — $100 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation and $50 million from the Department of Rail and Public Transit — allocated last year.
There’s a special irony here: Last year, state Senate Democrats demanded an additional $300 million in state funding for Dulles Rail and Republicans opposed it. Wouldn’t it be delicious if Republicans, lining up behind McDonnell’s bill, now favored the $300 million and Democrats, affronted by the regressive nature of the tax plan, decided to oppose it?
And that, my friends, is how legislative sausage is made.
Addendum: Once again is demonstrated the irrelevance of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. If embedded in legislation, this earmark presumably would not require CTB review or approval.