“Allergic” to Facts at the Washington Post

If you disagree with the nostrums of the Washington Post, its editorial writers condemn you as an ideologue or a fool. Their arrogance is on display once again, attacking Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, for suggesting that Virginians are overtaxed.

Citing studies that show Virginia to be a low/moderate-tax state (the same studies cited on this blog recently), the Post refers scathingly to Lingamfelter and his “fact-averse” Republican colleagues in the House for their opposition to raising taxes for transportation.

Mr. Lingamfelter and his colleagues are allergic to a fact-based analysis of tax burdens because the facts are not on their side. That is ridiculous enough when downstate lawmakers mouth this nonsense, heedless as they are of Northern Virginia’s nightmarish traffic. It is galling coming from Mr. Lingamfelter…

The debate boils down to which facts you pay attention to, and which ones you ignore. The WaPo has certain facts on its side, but chooses to ignore others, such as the fact that Virginia has been running chronic budget surpluses since the passage of the 2004 tax increase. When Del. Lingamfelter suggests that Virginians are overtaxed, I suspect he’s referring to the fact of the budget surpluses.

Here’s another fact: Virginia has one of the strongest state economies in the country. Several Virginia MSAs are growing faster than the national average (in order of growth): Winchester, Lynchburg, Northern Virginia, Blacksburg, Roanoke and Richmond. One reason — not the only reason, but one of them — is that Virginia has one of the lower tax burdens in the country. Innumerable studies have demonstrated that low taxes are correlated with higher rates of economic growth. That, too, is a fact.

Low taxes, I would add, are particularly important to downstate Metropolitan Statistical Areas that don’t have the luxury of the federal government, with its power to redistribute the nation’s wealth, to pump up their local economies. We need a low-tax business climate to prosper.

We could argue all day long on who is more “fact-averse” — the WaPo editorial writers or Del. Lingamfelter. But onl the WaPo is arrogant enough to think that it has a monopoly on the facts.

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10 responses to ““Allergic” to Facts at the Washington Post”

  1. ShortPumpShorty Avatar

    The WaPo arrogant? Perish the thought!

    Nevertheless, one more “fact” to consider: the surplus comes in the General Fund, not the Non General Fund; and the Governor, the House and the Senate all found ways to spend it. It is the NGF that supports transportation.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    They just raised taxes in Winchester, go figure.

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    The Post’s solution for any issue in Virginia is a tax increase. Notice how D.C. and Maryland both proposed to transfer a portion of existing tax revenues to support Metro and received Post editorial support. What is the Post’s solution for Virginia? A tax increase.

    The Post regularly chastizes the fruits of lobbying; yet it ignores the state auditor’s report that concluded Virginia funds transportation projects, not on the basis of sound engineering and economics, but based on whose greasy lobbyists do the best job manipulating the CTB. Why, because the fruits of Virginia lobbying produce a need for tax increases.

    The Post regularly critizes the lack of cost controls in the D.C. Government, but ignores the finding of the state auditor that VDOT lacks internal cost controls — because such a finding is inconistent with increasing taxes to fund VDOT.

    The bottom line with the Post is: do whatever it takes to justify higher and higher taxes. Fixing transportation problems comes below the need to tax us more.

  4. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    You know, Jim, I read (and re-read) the Post editorial quite a bit differently. I took its purpose to be an attack on the decision and underlying justification for not allocating funds to the Metro system that would have made possible a $1.5 billion federal match for the system. There may be good reasons for not permitting the system to receive the match (I don’t know what they are, but I’ll stipulate that we could have a solid debate about that), but Virginia is in a three-way deal (with Maryland and DC) on the operation and funding of this system, and the context of the Post editorial was that Virginia was welshing on its commitments to the regional system and to the other two jurisdictions. Beyond that, the Post was attacking the justification offered by Scott Lingamfelter – that it would be contary to “our principles” to fund Virginia’s contributions to the Metro system. I’m not certain that Lingamfelter actually said that Virginia is “overtaxed” ( the POst may have been extrapolating that), but the “our principles” language isn’t good enough on this issue. The issue has to be engaged on the basis of whether the benefits of funding the system offer a return of commensurate value to the people of Virginia. If Lingamfelter and his colleagues are ready to get into the weeds on that discussion, let’s have it. But just saying NO isn’t good enough, particularly where there ARE surpluses and where the state is a relatively low-tax jurisdiction.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “The issue has to be engaged on the basis of whether the benefits of funding the system offer a return of commensurate value to the people of Virginia.”

    And what exactly are those benefits? We can’t say that Metro has reduced congestion, either traffic or Metro related.

    We can say that Metro has and will make possible enormous profits for some landowners along the right of way. Surely, some of that benefit transfers to all Virginians, but to what extent? Who gets to help pay but otherwise gets left out?

    We can say that Metro makes possible a concentration of labor that otherwise could not result, but how does that benefit Virginians, especially if much of the concentration is in the District?

    We can say the Metro saves a lot of auto use and gasoline, but at what cost? Especially if the alternative is not schlepping to the place where some idiots decided to place the jobs, for the purpose of more convenient committee meetings.

    If we extend Metro to Dulles and BWI we will have created a multimodal transportation system, and that is surely a benefit.

    We will have offered a “choice” of transport to many people, most of whom still choose the other alternative.

    I’m sure there are other arguments to make, some more complimentary to Metro and mass transit in general. But NOVA Scout is correct we should weigh the costs and the benefits. And we should compare them with what other alternatives we have for the use of billions of dollars.

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray: A couple of reactions. While I’m a strong critic of WMATA’s operations, lack of oversight from elected officials and expansion to Dulles, keeping Metro operating is very important to NoVA. If the Orange and Blue Lines were shut, the additional car traffic during commuting times would further choke the roads. We do need, however, to wring more efficiencies from Metro’s operations.

    Virginians working in D.C. provide benefits to the Commonwealth. We pay our income taxes to Virginia, rather than to D.C.

    I strongly agree that among the key beneficiaries of Metro nearby commercial landowners (i.e., those properties located within walking distance of a Metro stop). There has been some recognition of this fact in the added real estate taxes imposed on commercial landowners to fund a portion of the costs for extending Metrorail to Dulles. However, there are no taxes to capture any part of this same value to fund Virginia’s share of operating costs. I submit that a much stronger argument can be made in favor of adding a real estate surcharge to commerical properties near all Virginia Metro stops or by imposing a high parking space tax in those same areas than to impose an increase in the sales tax for everyone to raise funds for operating subsidies for Metro.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “If the Orange and Blue Lines were shut, the additional car traffic during commuting times would further choke the roads.”

    Don’t get me wrong. Metro is a magnificent achievement. Considering it’s history, it is a wonder it was ever “completed”. And it continues only as a result of lavish political patronage. It is the second busiest system in the nation, after New York, and it still can’t pay its own way. The transit oriented development it has spawned is not a natural development, but one that has been driven by political ideology and paid for with public funds.

    Anyone that thinks Metro is about transportation, doesn’t understand that it is really another national monument: it is a great thing and marvelous technology by itself. Maybe it doesn’t even need cost justification, any more the the Washington Monument does.

    But if that is the case, we should recognize it as such, and not as the answer to all our problems, which it isn’t.

    But considering how choked the roads are now, could they really be much worse? I suggest that they could not, and that absent Metro we would have found some other solution, the question is, would that solution be more cost effective? To me it boils down to the question of why are we moving 700,000 people every day? Apparently the business sector is asking the same question because Northern Virginia absorbed 4.9 million square feet of new office space last year.

    So, office space in NOVA is $30/sq ft. Metro cost $10 billion to build, and the interest on the capital cost would be $700 million a year. For that kind of money you could put up 23 million square feet of office space near where people live, and give it away free for businesses to use. And that doesn’t count the annual operating losses we spend on Metro.

    Instead of driving to Metro, parking, and then taking metro to an office building, we could drive to the office building and park. What is the difference? The difference is that you would eliminate one step in the process: Metro.

    This is obviously completely unrealistic, and it is exactly as unrealistic as Metro, which however exists.

    So, let’s supose we paid for Metro as you suggest, by having those that use it pay for it through real estate and parking surcharges. What would be the result? More people would refuse to take jobs downtown, which are already hard to fill because of housing costs, to avoid the travel costs. More businesses would elect to build someplace else, and the result would be 23 million sq feet of office space someplace where you don’t have to move 700,000 people 40 miles twice a day.

    I’ll say it again. The transit oriented development Metro has spawned is not a natural development, but one that has been driven by political ideology and paid for with public funds for the sake of supporting federal job centricity, which is entirely unneccessary.

    To be fair, not everyone drives to the Metro station and parks, but not everyone uses Metro either. All it does is relieve part of the 20% of auto travel that is work related. And how much is that part?

    As best as I can tell, based on the best and latest studies, those families that live in the most densely populated areas use about 44 gallons of auto fuel per year less than those that live in the least densely populated suburbs. Those that live in the densest areas burn about the same amount as thos that live in truly rural areas. That is the amount that is related solely to density, after you take into account all the other factors such as income.

    It doesn’t consider other city related energy factors. It doesn’t consider that, if I save 44 gallons by riding Metro, part of that “savings” is converted to other costs. At the bottom line, if half of Metro riders have a real fuel economy savings of 22 gallons a year, then metro has resulted in a “savings” of 7.7 million gallons per year. Going back to the interest on Metro capital costs, that means every gallon of fuel Metro saves us is costing $9.

    OK, so Metro is saving us the cost of all the roads we would have to build to use that fuel, too. But many of those roads are already built, and underused. Anyway, if the fuel tax was $6 a gallon over and above the cost of fuel, I imagine we could afford the roads as easily as we can afford Metro. And the roads can bring your the fire truck, rescue squad, and deliveries from Home Depot, and take away your garbage, which Metro cannot.

    I’m not saying Metro isn’t worth it. All I’m suggesting is that someone think about it without starting from the idea that it is the greatest thing since nickle beer and it will solve all our problems from traffic congestion to obesity.

  8. NOVA Scout Avatar
    NOVA Scout

    Now we’re cookin’ guys. If the GA had engaged in this kind of discussion, the POst wouldn’t have written the same editorial.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    A big unanswered question is: How should transportation resource decisions be made? At one level, we clearly want our elected officials, be they the Governor or the General Assembly, to be involved. We certainly would not be well-served if all those decisions were made solely by bureaucrats without any checks by elected officials.

    On the other hand, we don’t seem to be well-served by the type of decisions that our elected and appointed officials are making. The state auditor finds that VDOT spends vast fortunes on projects that are not coordinated to any master plan, but seem to be based solely on who can best manipulate the CTB. Virginia officials, from Tim Kaine on down, seem to be dedicated to spending billions to extend Metrorail to Dulles despite providing evidence that this huge expediture would not alleviate traffic congestion. (The state has advised me that the reason we get no traffic relief for our billions of tax and toll road dollars is because of the added growth in population that adding Metrorail would spur.)

    Think about this. Would a business with capacity problems spend billions in capital for infrastructure that did not fix its capacity problems? Over the years, I worked with some executives who believed that just laying more track in front of the oncoming train was a good idea. However, most executives I’ve known were a bit more sophisiticated. They generally tried to devise a plan that resulted in measurable improvements. Not so, our state officials.

    Perhaps, we need more revenue for transportation. But can’t we make the very same argument for every other government-affected resource or service? At which point do we become Europe? The public sector is very important to our way of life, but at some point, it becomes unaffordable. Even a costly government might be of benefit if it were effective. But why would any thinking person believe that giving VDOT more money would produce efficient and effective results? Too many questions and very few answers.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Even a costly government might be of benefit if it were effective. “

    I know you have serious issues with Fairfax government, and I understand completely.

    But let me say this. My taxes in Fauquier are lower than my taxes in Fairfax. At least in Fairfax I can look around and see that I get SOMETHING for my money. If you had Fauquier’s government down there, you would really have issues.

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