The General Assembly’s transportation-tax compromise may have a problem even bigger than the fact that it raises taxes to build a transportation system for the 20th (not the 21st) century: It may be unconstitutional.
Paul Goldman, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and Norm Leahy, conservative pundit and editor of BearingDrift.com, have joined bylines in the Washington Post to argue precisely that. They write:
Virginia’s constitution is clear that the General Assembly can impose only uniform taxes across the state for similar activities. But the bill that emerged from the House-Senate conference committee last weekend … contains new provisions about taxation, some of which would effectively set up a two-tier system for residents in certain parts of the state. It’s difficult to see how some of these provisions could survive legal challenge.
Among other flaws, the legislation would require Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads localities to increase their sales tax to fund regional transportation projects. Also, the package would impose a “regional congestion-relief fee” in Northern Virginia, which would add $750 to $1,000 to the cost of buying and selling a home.
Richmond can pass statutes giving a locality the right to impose any of these four levies — but state lawmakers cannot impose the levy themselves. This would violate the “home rule” principle that so many around the state, particularly in Northern Virginia, have long endorsed.
Bacon’s bottom line: This is egg in the face to the knuckleheads who cobbled together this monstrosity. The core fund-raising measures probably can be salvaged by excising the regional taxes and re-casting them as measures that localities can enact voluntarily. Of course, local politicos will not enact the taxes. They want the revenue only if the General Assembly takes the heat.
Really, this funding package is such a botch job that legislators need to go back to square one and start over. User pays, anyone?