Guillotine! Guillotine!

quotes Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, with this plaintiff cry: “It’s like people are trying to come up with a million different reasons to oppose the bill so it will die.”

The General Assembly transportation package may well meet its death through a thousand small cuts — many of which have been expounded upon by Bacon’s Rebellion contributors and readers. But there’s one big reason… a guillotine of a reason… for opposing the bill: It doesn’t move Virginia any closer to a user pays system.

First there is the economic argument against HB 3202: If you give something away for free, people will want more of it. If you sever the connection between the cost of building and maintaining roads and the people who drive on them, you will get more people driving farther on roads. In other words, you will make worse the very problem — traffic congestion — that you purport to solve.

Then there is the moral argument against the bill: Why should citizens who drive less be compelled to subsidize those who drive more? Why should citizens who engage in socially virtuous behavior — walking, bicycling, car pooling, telecommuting or riding the bus — be bilked to pay for those whose behavior is socially burdensome? All of the road-funding plans in play would punish the saints, reward the sinners and change no one’s behavior for the better.

One of the arguments I hear against the gasoline tax, a quasi-user fee, is that it would “hurt those who can least afford it.” Oh… So, Joe Sixpack cannot afford to pay a highly visible 10 cents a gallon when he fills his pump, but he can afford to pay a host of penalties, fees and taxes that either affect him directly or indirectly?

Let’s examine that proposition more closely. If Joe Sixpack pays at the pump, at least he has the option of altering his behavior to pay less of the tax. If he chooses, maybe he can ride the bus or carpool with a buddy — saving money and relieving congestion in doing so. By contrast, when the taxes, fees and levies are so diffused and embedded in the general cost structure of the economy, there is no evading them, no incentive to change behavior, and no congestion relief.

Until our lawmakers confront this basic reality, the entire conversation about transportation in Virginia — on both sides of the partisan aisle — is intellectually bankrupt.

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17 responses to “Guillotine! Guillotine!”

  1. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    I think this so-called compromise
    transportation legislation just
    approved by the General Assembly
    should be killed.

    We need a good, knock down, hard
    fought election campaign this fall
    over the 140 General Assembly seats.

    The voters should have the right to
    pick a new team in the General
    Assembly that will work with the
    Governor, local governments and other stakeholders to create a new
    growth management-transportation plan for Virginia.

  2. Gold_h2o Avatar

    “Oh… So, Joe Sixpack cannot afford to pay a highly visible 10 cents a gallon when he fills his pump, but he can afford to pay a host of penalties, fees and taxes that either affect him directly or indirectly?”

    Those that can least afford to pay don’t….they will do the time before they pay the fine.

    This is another aspect of the plan that has not been addressed.

    Ask your legislator what % of fines issued are actually collected…’s not even close to 100%.

  3. Anonymous Avatar


    While I appreciate your perspective on this issue, don’t you think it makes more sense for the Commonwealth to turn over control over local roads (if I remember correctly, these are “Tier 3” roads) to the local governments in which they reside, and instruct the aforementioned governments that they are responsible for the maintenance thereof? The Commonwealth would retain control and authority over Tier 2 roads, such as Route 123, and in conjunction with the Federal Government, would continue to provide for the Interstate system within our borders.

    Frankly, I don’t get this whole “planned growth” push at the Richmond level, anyway. (I don’t mean to jump off on a tangent, but it’s a recurring theme amongst conservative bloggers here in the Commonwealth that’s vexed me for a while now…)

    As far as I can tell, the counties themselves have caused the problems that we’re seeing, not Richmond!

    Nobody “forced” Loudoun County to allow builders to create neighborhoods out of subdivided farmland, before the infrastructure to serve them was built.

    Prince William County is as much to blame for some of the “blighted” construction along the Route 1 corridor as anyone else is, and certainly moreso than Richmond, no?

    As far as commute times from these localities, I have zero sympathy. I used to spend 2 hours a day in traffic, driving from Alexandria to Reston via 7900/7100, a “connector” road that was built on the cheap (admittedly!) by Fairfax County, where traffic backs up for miles due to poorly-planned and otherwise un-upgraded traffic signals.

    But you know what?

    Rather than constantly complaining, and waiting for someone else to fix it, I solved the problem myself. I now work the same distance away from my house, but in a different direction (going from Alexandria south), and my commute now takes me less than half as long as it used to, plus moving at highway speeds, my gas mileage has improved considerably!

    Why wait for Richmond to solve something that we can solve ourselves? Isn’t individualism in the form of a lack of reliance on “Government” to meet our needs a desired trait amongst Virginians? Or at least, Conservative Virginians?

    The way I see it (and do forgive me if I’m mistaken, please), the counties already have all of the tools they need to control their own growth — in the form of zoning laws.

    To continue on my previous example, the fact that Loudoun is overcrowded is no fault of Richmond’s. Loudoun County approved all of the developments that were proposed, perhaps driven by the greed of increased property tax revenues, perhaps not, and they did so without considering the impact of sending the inhabitants of 300 residences down a two-lane road.

    I’d rather not see Richmond piled under additional regulatory burden, when more local solutions could be made that would not negatively impact the rest of the Commonwealth. Why isn’t there more discussion of these types of solutions, instead of the constant reliance on the General Assembly?

    Most Respectfully,
    Brian L.
    Snapped Shot (Alexandria, VA)

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Driving farther does not cause congestion. If you don’t believe it just take a nice long drive around New Mexico, and then try to go to downtown Albuquerque.

    I don’t think we can have a valid user pays campaign until we also have a user gets campaign. The user isn’t going to get any more urban roads. And even if something like the ICC was proposed as a toll road, it would still face the same opposition.

    As long as we have people like the coalition for smarter growth espousing the idea that no road is ever valuable, that roads cause congestion and VMT and pollution instead of reducing them, then we can’t very well turn around and charge valuable money on a user pays for roads basis.

    It is basically a lie. If we are really going to charge road users to pay for transit, then we should say so. (Parenthetically, I had an occasion to watch four rush hour metro buses, all heading for Ballston. Among the four buses there was one passenger. One.)

    It is too many people in one place at one time that causes congestion, whether it is horse carts, autos, or people waitng on the platform for an metro car with available space. Absent a major collapse in jobs, we aren’t going to get congestion relief through urban roads: it is too expensive.

    So, how did we get this way? Could it be that our planners lost the link between land use and transportation when they built all those office buildings?

    Here is my plan. Instead of charging the poor schmuck who is trying to get to those office buildings he didn’t plan, slap a tax on the office buildings. Then offer offsetting tax credits and a trading scheme for those that are willing to convert to dwelling spaces.

    Let the people who caused the problem pay for it, and let them pay to fix the problem.

    While we are at it we can save some tax money by firing the planners. Put them on the streets with their ideas to sell to the highest bidder. Hopefully their ideas will include an economically viable plan to make themselves pay.
    If they put their own ideas and their own money at risk, we could give them a better title: we could call them developers.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Nobody “forced” Loudoun County to allow builders to create neighborhoods out of subdivided farmland, before the infrastructure to serve them was built.

    Right. But without the neighborhoods there, there was NO ONE to pay for the infrastructure that would be needed someday. that is why we have this huge cry to make sure the new guys pay for it. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as the bill doesn’t also include the one for thirty years of deferred maintenance on what infrastructure did exist.

    I suggest that anonymous’ driving situation is typical, and that is the reason for the reverse commuting we now see. Instead of wringing our hands, we should see this as a success, because we are getting higher density use out of the sme roads.

    But, if we just use zoning to keep our roads empty, then each of us will have to pay for more empty roads, and each of us will have to compete for more expensive housing. If you think roads are expensive, wait till you try to dry up housing.

    And we will still have to find a place for all the new people.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Brian L., Yes I *do* think it is a good idea to turn full responsibility for secondary roads over to the localities. That is one of the good parts of HB3202. The GOP legislative package has a lot of other good ideas, too. If there were any way to carve them out from the financing component, I would be all in favor of them.

    The problem, to my mind, is that the financing piece is *so* bad that the legislative package as a whole must be opposed.

    For what it’s worth, I also agree that localities don’t need any more zoning tools to manage growth — a point that I have made repeatedly on this blog. County zoning policies are a big part of the problem.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Folks need to recognize that NoVa, Richmond, TW/HR, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Lexington, Buena Vists, Roanoke, Bluefield, Bristol etc, etc ALL of these localities and many more, have secondary roads to be maintained.

    Isn’t it a bit foolish for any of these localities/regions to believe/expect that the taxpayers in the other regions/localities are going to pay not only to maintain their own roads but then extra taxes to maintain other Regional and locality roads?

    When we hear Prince William and Fairfax .. HR/TW, etc, etc say that the state needs to “step up to the plate and perform it’s responsibilities”.. what they are advocating is that others in Va pay for their roads.

    Those engaged in Law Enforcement call these kinds of schemes – Ponzi Schemes because it based on the idea that you’ll get back more than you put into something.

    JLARC has recommended (5 years ago) that all localities assume responsibility for their local roads and to get their share of the gas tax to do it.

    VDOT (and all Virginia taxpayers) should pay for Primary Roads that connect regions and localities statewide.

    Virginians and out of state drivers should pay for our interstates.

    Regional Roads need to be paid for by folks in those Regions on projects that connect the regional localities.

    I can understand the tax&spend folks ignoring any kind of rational funding concept that actually makes economic sense but what is the Republicans excuse?

    They have had the opportunity for several years now to step up and make recommendations that are true to their principles .. and JLARC has done all of the work for them.

    Just simply write legislation that embodies the JLARC recommendations and then let the Dems and the Dem gov attack their own administrative recommendations.

    I’d love to see Bill Howell get up in front of a press conference and state clearly that the Republican party is going to follow Virginia’s own version of the CBO recommendations because it makes perfect economic sense and will protect and preserve Virginia’s future budgets from being looted by greedy localities who refuse to properly plan their own growth.

  8. Roll Tide Avatar
    Roll Tide

    Mr. Gross & Mr. Bacon, – I enjoyed your comment:

    “JLARC has recommended (5 years ago) that all localities assume responsibility for their local roads and to get their share of the gas tax to do it.”

    Unfortunately, no where in no bill this year was the latter part included.

    What was stated many times in many versions was that localities [or homeowners associations] take over responsibility for new secondary [local] roads, but nothing was said about any money other than local real estate taxes.

    Right now, VDOT pays every city and the large towns over $9,000 per lane mile for local road maintenance, and depending on the road classification, that payment could rise to $15,500 per lane mile. In addition, VDOT and the Feds pay up to 98% of each municipal road construction project.

    In counties, the maintenance payment is $4,500 per lane mile and 100% of new road construction project, if the funds are available.

    If the state wants to give local roads to counties, then the state should share some of the gas tax. Don’t give them the shaft and keep the gold mine.

  9. Anonymous Avatar


    Thank you very much for clarifying things. That does make sense.


    Brian L.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    If all localities assume responsibility for their local roads, then that is one thing. But the current proposal figures NOVA and HR will continue to help pay for other locales AND pick up the tab for their own roads.

    If we adopt the JLARC policies Larry suggests, then the downstate areas are going to take a beating. Especially if they have to depend on only the gas tax to do it. Since the state road revenues come from other sources than the gas tax the money the state gives back should include part of the other sources as well.

    Now all we have to do is figure out what the allocation of those sources to each region wll be. :-).

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t know the allocations and I don’t know if NoVa is a net donor on road funds.

    What I hear is that because NoVa is a net donor on Education that they therefore deserve return credit on road funds.

    First I don’t think we should confuse the two. We should be working off of facts not opinions.

    Second I don’t think if there is an imblance that we should confuse them further by attempting further “trading” of education funds for roads funds.

    Get the facts out on the two – for both NoVa and HR/TW then if there are inequities deal with those inequities.

    THEN … follow JLARC’s recommendations which I would encourage folks to read and understand rather than assume or for that sake… even believe what I am asserting.

    Go get the JLARC report and read it because they go through chapter and verse on the allocations as well as other relevant issues.

    The JLARC report is not necessarily the truth from on high but it is a helluva lot better START towards trying to unravel the current mess.. a good place to first.. understand.. and then once one understand.. there might be additional/different potential paths beyond the JLARC recommendations.

    The problem that we have is that virtually no one wants to take the time to actually read the report and that includes bloggers and the elected GA.

    There is really simple-minded stuff that is taken for granted that never made any sense from the very beginning that virtually everyone takes for granted.

    For instance, the current VDOT District boundaries have absolutely nothing to do with any semblance of regions, MSAs, or other rational criteria. They were drawn according to the 1922 Congresional Boundaries.

    But yet.. our GA reps .. both sides of the aisle seem perfectly content to continue with VDOT districts that didn’t even make transportation-sense when they were first created much less today.

  12. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Del. Albo is lamenting that people are coming up with a million reasons to kill this bill. What hasn’t occured to Del. Albo is that if people can come up with a million diferent reasons to kill this bill, it must be a terrible bill and deserves to die.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Larry, I agree entirely. We need more verifiable data that is readily accessible and less opinion.

    But, given the enormous economic engine in NOVA, I would be surprised if it wasn’t a net contributor overall.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    So many of the arguments being used in this debate are based in convenience and spin, rather than in logic.

    First, let’s talk about the idea of user fees for roads. It’s a nice idea but little of what government does when it comes to major services are user fees even when there is unequal benefit.

    Where is the user fee for schools for the family that has 5 kids and adds a major burden to the system versus the family with two kids or the single worker with no kids? A family with that many kids derives far more economic benefit from the system than they pay in taxes. The gratis costs of education keep the price of schooling from deincentivizing larger families. Where are the user fees for government paid health care?

    Right or wrong, the whole tax system is created in a way the redistributes resources based on factors like income and generic consumption of goods. Why would roads be any different?

    And let’s stop thinking about the fact that the only economic benefit that people derive from roads relates to their own usage. Even if I walk to the store and to work and never set foot in a vehicle, roads still matter to my economic and personal well-being. They are still needed to bring bread to the store. They are still needed to ferry me to the hospital if I have a heart attack. They are still needed to continue the movement of goods and services. Even if I do not drive one road mile, there is a public good that comes from reducing road congestion.

    Would a user fee make more sense? Sure it would. But the reality is that in Virginia on March 2, 2007, that is not going to pass. There is not going to be a gas tax. There is not going to be a per mileage fee with some sort of big brother usage monitoring scheme. What is real and what is possible is what has passed. Is it perfect? Much of the package is terrible and I will be the first to admit it. But it is the only package that has a chance of being enacted. All the other ideas and concepts sound nice. But none of them have a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. We can wait until the sun burns out for the perfect or we can try this and see what works in it and what does not. And that which does not work will hopefully become readily apparent and be corrected as time goes on.

    Everyone on here who wants a different bill or a better bill is right. I wish there was one too. But that is not going to happen. So should nothing at all be done and the pointless debate society opining that has dominated this discussion for years continue without any chance of accomplishing anything? Or should we at least have the courage to try and do something and make an attempt at progress?

  15. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    In response to the last post. Two comments.

    Comment #1: The price of good roads does not require bad government. That is not acceptable.

    Comment #2: I am being taxed out of my home in Sandbridge. It is assessed for $350,000 more than I paid for it. Sandbridge has an extra “sand tax” we pay above what everyone else in Virignia Beach pays for their RE taxes, per $100.00 of assessed value. I put my house up for sale in the fall.

    Last week an “investor” offered me $55,000 less than my asking price.

    I have the least expensive property left in my neighborhood. My price is already reduced $65,000 from my original market assessment price – to take into account recent market changes and the lack of buyers in Sandbridge.

    (Property is very expensive in Sandbridge)

    My wife and I turned him down – his “deal” was simply inadequate and unacceptable. He was unwilling to negotiate in good faith to attempt to find a price that might be acceptable to my wife and I.

    His offer was the best offer I have had in the past 3 months. It was in cash.

    I need to reduce my “housing costs” so that I can live within my means.

    Last Friday my wife quit her job. There goes that income. This only adds to my need to lower my monthly housing costs.

    However, I will do what I must to retain ownership of my property in Sandbridge until an acceptable offer is made.

    I am not going to sell my home for far less than it is worth simply because that was the best offer placed on the table – at this time.

    HB 3202 is the same thing – it is unacceptable and the intelligent decision is to say “no deal” then to accept the unacceptable deal placed on the table.

    A fool and his money are soon parted – any taxpayer willing to accept HB 3202 in TW/HR region is a fool that will not only have his/her money taken from them – but they will not see any reduction in traffic congestion either.

    For my region HB 3202 is a complete loser.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Where is the user fee for schools for the family that has 5 kids and adds a major burden to the system versus the family with two kids or the single worker with no kids?”

    We cannot do user fees for education even though I agree with all of your points. School costs are out of hand and financially stress many areas, especially those that are experiencing high growth.

    But we cannot take actions that will condemn innocent children to bad outcomes and that is what would happen if we started charging for kids.

    It’s a big problem I agree, especially when a huge number of kids are being born to single parents.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “And let’s stop thinking about the fact that the only economic benefit that people derive from roads relates to their own usage. Even if I walk to the store and to work and never set foot in a vehicle, roads still matter to my economic and personal well-being. They are still needed to bring bread to the store.”

    Each item needs to have the delivery cost incorporated into it.

    We already do this except that we simply do not charge what is necessary to pay for the roads so the answer is NOT to have taxpayers pick up the difference but rather each of us according to what we buy just like the costs of any other business activity passed on to consumers.

    It’s the BEST way to get companies to look at their own transportation costs and to use effective efforts as a competitive edge against their competitors.

    Subsidizing them BOTH with taxpayer money is quite simply – bad policy.

    I agree with your view of the pursuit of realistic solutions.

    TOLL roads are coming. They actually are already here in many areas around the world and this country.

    And they work because they target users.

    Each user pays a quid pro quo for service. A fee-for-service transaction.

    It’s amazing to me that as Toll roads and HOT lanes proceed (Read WaPo) – are, in fact, realities that our own GA refuses to recognize this trend and instead, their solution is lame, backdoor taxation (in my view).

    I agree that there is lots of discussion about things that might not happen…

    but where is the GA Leadership?

    It appears to me that they are doing everything they can to avoid leading… and to avoid confronting the actual issues.

    What they’re doing is kicking the can down the road… at best and at worst.. they’re making some bad laws that ultimately won’t be accepted by the public and may well harm some businesses.

    The most fundamental of all of this is that there is not enough money coming in to pay for road maintenance – because the costs of maintenance are influenced by inflation – and our GA guys apparently refuse to take action to
    enact an indexed gas tax.

    Just that one thing would help buy some time on how to deal with construction issues because it’s the maintenance costs that are eating the construction money.

    How could anyone attack this as a bad idea? No… folks would not like it and there might be complaints but no one could accuse the GA of backdoor tactics or ineffective responses to the problem.

    I believe that most folks would view this as responsible leadership.

    I don’t understand the no-tax guys.

    No one likes inflation – but it’s a reality that must be addressed with regard to the gas tax.

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