All I’m Asking for Is a Little Consistency

Two of the more notable proposals that General Assembly Republicans have advanced during this year’s transportation special session involve constitutional lockboxes and tolling franchises.

The Rs have backed a constitutional lockbox for regional transportation levies to ensure that state politicians can’t raid regional piggybanks. At the same time, a number of prominent Rs have floated the idea of selling toll franchises to the private sector as a way of raising up-front capital to pay for other transportation priorities. (See “One Good Idea, One Bad.”)

Can anyone see the inconsistency between those two positions? Both represent an unwarranted transfer of wealth from tax/toll payers to a different set of beneficiaries.

The reason a lockbox is needed for regional transportation levies is that politicians can’t be trusted not to divert the funds to some other use. Why would such diversions be bad? Because they would constitute a transfer of wealth from those who pay the levies to some other beneficiary who doesn’t pay the taxes. The Rs are rightfully distressed that the Ds who control the state Senate shot this idea down.

But… How’s the pilfering of regional levies any different from selling a tolling franchise to a private-sector operator who slaps tolls on a road that didn’t have them before? Under such an arrangement, the state would pick the pockets of those who pay the tolls and redistribute the funds to benefit someone who wasn’t paying the levy. A lot of Rs seem to understand the principle at stake when it comes to swiping Dulles Toll Road revenues to support the Rail-to-Dulles rail project. But their objections seem to disappear when they think that they may be the ones redistributing the funds.

Bottom line: If levies warrant a constitutional lockbox, which they do, so do bridge and highway tolls? Anything else is legalized theft. Let’s have a little consistency, please.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Depends on how you define beneficiaries. If you think the only beneficiaries are local ones who also pay the levies, then you are correct.

    If you think transportation is a more generalized (but partly regional) benefit, then no.


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Some State DOTs including Flordia, Maryland, and now North Carolina are forming multi-toll-road tolling authorities with the idea that tolls on the more lucrative roads would help subsidize tolls on less lucrative roads.

    The thought seems to be that this would be a more flexible way to get all of the needed projects up and running concurrently in HR/TW – to essentially become funding revenue streams for other projects needing construction money.

    This is the way that VDOT is thinking about doing the US 460 road – because the studies show that it cannot bring in enough tolls as a stand-alone road, in part because it would compete against a “free” I-64.

    Some would say – why not toll I-64 to add new lanes to it rather than a brand-new competing road but then the argument would be that you’re tolling something that has already been paid for.

    Another example would be the CBBT which collects enough tolls to pay for it’s operations but not enough to pay for new tunnels.

    How should this be handled?
    Should the new tunnels be paid for by all Virginia taxpayers or should the CBBT become part of a multi-road tolling authority so avoid having to raise state taxes?

    Florida uses this same approach – to have existing toll road generate “seed” money to build new toll roads – sort of a revolving fund.

    I would not be surprised to hear than a private consortium would offer a better deal in HR/TW is they got a “basket” of roads that they could toll – as a single authority rather than operate each one as a separate entity.

    I’m not sure that the same folks who would be opposed to using toll road revenues for non-road – transit would be opposed to the idea of having a multi-toll-road authority as long as the tolls were restricted to roads only.

    I’ll agree – without some kind of a “lockbox” provision for toll road authorities – they become yet another slush fund…

    We give the Dulles Toll Road as an example of how tolls will be inappropriately used to fund transit.

    I’d point out that the HOT lanes will do the same thing AND to add insult to injury – the HOT lanes are benefiting from subsidized financing made possible by use of the Federal Gas tax on gasoline.

    Whether we, as citizens agree or not – Fed and State officials, including elected officials apparently are fine with this concept – perhaps in the same way that they thought citizens were “ok” with the abuser fees ….

    VDOT’s Pierce Homer “gets it”. here’s what he has said:

    “Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer spent much of the day voicing support for tolling as a tool to raise revenue and reduce traffic. But he was quick to warn lawmakers that tolling must be pursued cautiously because of the possibility of a political backlash.”,0,2627147.story

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    so we need a third type of lockbox.

    We have a State Lock Box.

    Then Regional Lock Boxes

    Now.. TollRoad Lock Boxes


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Great. Another friggin bureaucracy.

  5. Groveton Avatar


    Based on the tenor of your post I am guessing that those rats in the GA are talking about selling roads outside of NoVA. And I know what you’ll say – the NoVA tolls were not about selling existing public assets but, rather, about a private enterprise building a private asset. Got a question on that (no sarcasm – I really don’t know) – who owned the land on which the HOT lanes will be built? Wasn’t it the state of Virginia – by and large? Or, did Flour / Transurban acquire that land in open, arm’s length, free market transactions?

    Jim – you anger seems to be piqued now that the $1/mi tolls may apply to your region as well. I wonder when Larry will figure this out and get mad too?

    However, I may have a “passive resistance” answer to these Dillon Rule dorks. A combination of a mapping product (like Tom Tom) and XM real time congestion reports. You can program the system in your car to avoid the tolls and the traffic. Find the best side streets and drive around the tolls. Depending on how much you drive on the $1/mi roads – it could pay for itself very quickly. And the people who live on those suddenly crowded side streets? I guess they’ll just have to vote out the idiots who passed these laws. You want “political backlash”? Here it comes.

  6. Groveton Avatar

    Also, I’d like to suggest a Bacon’s Rebellion party later this summer. All regular bloggers and contributors would be invited. Somewhere in NoVA – could be my house, could be my country club or a restaurant.

    Jim Bacon gets a veto on this idea.

    Personally, I’d like to meet the scallywags on this blog in person. Cold beer and hot nachos.

    Post me up some comments on this idea.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: backlash

    are the GA guys looking over their shoulders at the abuser fees debacle as they now consider tolls?

    you bet your sweet bippy.

    but what is the alternative?

    ahhh.. how to NOT dance into the cross hairs! heh heh heh

    the big brave GA guys in the Senate have passed a WHOPPING gas tax increase – WHOA! what is it a penny or two a year for the next 5 years or so…

    Awesome !!! if we are lucky – it will just BARELY cover the widening maintenance deficit.

    The “no mo tax” party in the House has promised a quick and bloody disposal of this Dem abomination – though.

    but that brings us back to ..where will new road money come from (assuming some sanity about the maintenance money prevails in the end).

    Ah.. you say Kaine has a 1% regional sales tax.

    Let’s see.. that tallies up to about 170 million annually in HR/TW.

    Now how much did those tunnel/bridge projects cost? was it 4 or 5 Billion or was that just for ONE project?

    TRUTH – you ain’t going to build no major tunnels/bridges in HR/TW for 170 million a year. Where will the rest of the money come from?

    let me repeat that for effect:

    “where will the rest of the money come from”?

    NoVa? they’ll get what 350 million annually…

    It’s true they only have one multi-billion dollar project… er was it transit boondoggle?

    Let’s say that a TMT miracle occurs and the evil developers trying to get rich off of Dulles Rail get whacked and what remains is a simple METRO rail extension for ONLY two Billion or so…

    well.. that project alone will chew on a lot of NoVa 1% “solution” – and NVTA’s Transact 2030 will quickly dispose of any excess.

    but Groveton sort of proves an important point about the hated HOT lanes.

    GPS units are getting pretty clever at avoiding tolls and the new ones are even better – able to give you real time info not only about traffic but current tolls.

    So. you can decide if the HOT lanes are “worth it” to you.

    some days.. you just slog on home but the night you’re supposed to meet friends for dinner or pick up relatives at the airport -you pay that toll -and you’re glad to pay that toll because you don’t have to allow 2 hours to get there.

    People will come to view the toll for reliable trip as a value-added service well worth the cost on some occasions.

    Others, the gal that bills at $300 an hour – a $10 toll is chump change if it gets her $300 more in billing hours.

    and here is a parting funny –

    the papers report that some NoVa citizens were SHOCKED – SHOCKED at how fast the work started on the HOT lanes.

    They expressed the thought that they knew that VDOT was working on it but they thought it would be years before they saw anything actually happen.


    I think if the people in NoVa and/or HR/TW are overwhelmingly opposed to tolls – the message WILL be heard … and I DO think at least some of those GA guys have their ear to the ground listening for any signs of a thundering herd headed their way.

    If that happens.. I’ll not be surprised to see the 3 horseman in front leading the charge – Bob, Ray and Groveton.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I think a Blog Roast is a good idea. I wonder if a blog hunt is anything like a snipe hunt. I hear making blog is kind of like making sausage.

    We should probably make it the rule that this is a social event – no politics or religion.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Or we could have it at the farm, bring paintballs and have a regular war.


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m only lukewarm on the idea… that could change…

    re: Consistency

    The gas tax does not reallocate exactly proportionately. Further, an arbitrary amount is not used for roads – in the case of the 18 cent Federal Tax – about 3 cents of it is used for Mass Transit.

    How it was decided to be 3 cents rather than 6 cents or zero cents, I don’t know. The result is that while it is arbitrary – it IS CONSISTENT.

    so if you follow this logic now switch over to how the revenues from toll roads should be treated.

    For instance, if we wanted to remain CONSISTENT with the way the gas tax itself is done – we would allow SOME toll road revenues to be used for other purposes such as other roads AND we’d also allow an arbitrary (but consistent) amount to be used for Mass Transit.

    The GA guys – especially our Pachyderms who claim credentials as thinkers instead of taxers…

    they could put together a kind of a “lockbox” logic for toll roads in Va where they would:

    1. – limit the amount of revenues that could be “diverted” from any individual toll road

    2. – Within that total diversion amount, a percentage allowed for mass transit.

    3. – That any such diversion would be limited to a Region.

    4. – Perhaps some percentage for the State.

    There are several different valid ways to slice and dice but the underlying point is to put some specific rules on how toll road revenues can be used to keep the miscreants from doing what miscreants will do if there are no rules.

    This could be a way to give some assurances to the public that we are NOT going to create another giant slush fund.. and that.. we’ll, at the least, not allow it to be any more “slushy” than our other existing revenue streams.

    or.. we could make it a lot tighter.

    the bigger point – rules to assure the public that toll roads are not going to amount to “stealing” with a license.


  11. charlie Avatar

    You intellectual Republicans seems to think road building is all about tragedy of the commons, and that the only fair system is where the user of the road pays.

    A gas tax is a simpler way to get there. Imperfect, will fail more in the future as MPG increases, but works for now.

    Long term, I don’t see why you recognize that roads are not a tragedy of the commons. Congestion has structural supports (overdevelopment) but just moving 5 to 7 percent of drivers off peak times works wonders. Transit, car sharing, and time shifting can do that.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m all for the idea… the no religion/politics rule is a great idea… I think I might be the only person under 40 its all good :-p.


  13. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, I like the idea of holding a Bacon’s Rebellion party, too. It would be nice to put names to faces. Anyone who has any ideas of how to pull this off — times, locations, etc. — let me know offline at


  14. Anonymous Avatar

    ” just moving 5 to 7 percent of drivers off peak times works wonders. Transit, car sharing, and time shifting can do that.”

    You would think so, but the evidence seems to be a mixed bag.

    During Federal holidays, driving in the metro area is a breeze.

    But rush hour already lasts four hours, so we may have reached alimit on time shifting.

    There is no evidence that transit has reduced congestion. Could it be that transit faces the same problem as adding any other new capacity – the old induced demand theory?

    Someone gets out of their car to take transit, and suddenly a new “raod customer” pops up to take their place.

    And if transportation growth is expected to be greater than 20%, how much time does 5% buy you?


    Re gas tax: we probably won;t get the infinite mileage that will make the gas tax obsolete.

    “The relationship between consumption and m.p.g. is curvilinear, and there is a greater savings at lower m.p.g.โ€™s. Over 10,000 miles, the 28 m.p.g. car uses 198 fewer gallons than the 18 m.p.g., more than double the savings of the 50 m.p.g. car compared with the 34 m.p.g. one.”


  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s what we do know.

    We know that $8 a gallon with $2-3 bucks being a tax does not lead to people refusing to buy gasoline.

    Cars and gasoline usage continue in countries that put substantial taxes on gasoline.

    Now – the question as to what they do with those taxes – is a different one.

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