Kaine Plots Transportation Strategery

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has met with top Democratic lawmakers and his personal pollster to talk transportation. According to Jeff Schapiro’s report in the Times-Dispatch, the governor is seeking “a transportation solution that is simple, statewide and sufficient to meet our transportation needs.”

Oh, boy, we’re in big trouble.

The idea that there is a “simple” solution to Virginia’s transportation needs is a non-starter. If there were a “simple” solution, someone in the 50 states or the dozens of industrialized nations around the world would have found it. Transportation systems are inseparable from human settlement patterns, global energy economics, demographics and governance structures. They are among the most complex systems known to man.

In this case, “simple” is a code word for a simple-to-administer tax. I can only conclude that the governor is leaning towards a hike in the statewide gasoline tax, or possibly a hike in the state sales tax.

Now, I’m a big proponent of the gasoline tax as a funding mechanism for road and highway maintenance — the gasoline tax is indeed a simple, statewide and sufficient solution for that particular purpose. I might even be prevailed upon to raise gasoline taxes enough to ensure that Virginia has sufficient state matching dollars to qualify for full federal transportation funding. But I oppose gasoline taxes as a mechanism for financing new road construction. Let us remind ourselves of two things:

  • The transportation “crisis” is not a statewide phenomenon. It is limited mainly to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads (although, given the accelerating spread of dysfunctional human settlement patterns in the smaller metro areas, it could well become a “crisis” elsewhere in a decade or two). It makes no sense to raise taxes statewide to solve regional problems. One of two things will happen: Either (a) regions outside NoVa and HR will wind up taxing more and building more than they really need, with lots of money dumped into projects of dubious value or (b) excess funds money will be transferred to NoVa and HR from the rest of the state.
  • In the absence of Fundamental Change, pouring more money into a broken system will not “fix” the problem. It will propel the old jalopy a few more miles down the road, at which point it will be obvious that it’s still broken, and the politicians will be crying for another round of taxes.
  • There is no protection against the General Assembly raiding raid the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) to pay for non-transportation priorities, as it has done in the past. Gov. Kaine has totally dropped the ball on his campaign promise to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the TTF. Heck, he hasn’t dropped the ball. He’s spiked the ball in the safety zone and done a victory dance!

We know what is needed: a user-pays system for financing roads, sweeping reforms to land use, a mechanism to coordinate transportation and land use planning, and a restructuring of the powers of state and municipal government. Without Fundamental Change, we’re just spending more money, we’re not “solving” anything.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    ” It makes no sense to raise taxes statewide to solve regional problems. “

    I’m not sure this is entirely true. NOVA and Hampton raods are huge economic engines for the entire state.

    To the extent that the rest of the state benefits from those engines, and to the extent that those engines depend on transportation, then the rest of the state DOES have an interest in, and an obligation to, pay for the benefits it receives.


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “the politicians will be crying for another round of taxes.”

    Right. The last “round” of gas tax was serverd in 1986.

    What other road related taxes have been increased since then?


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    A user-pays system for financing roads, is a tax increase.

    Sweeping land use reforms amount to a tax increase if they are limitations on land use.

    A mechanism to coordinate transportation and land use planning amounts to more big government, which will have to be paid for, so that’s a call for a tax increase.

    A restructuring of the powers of state and municipal government, may pr may not do anything for transportation. Whenever you see a corporation “restructure” it is acompanied by huge writedowns, which have to be paid for.

    We have enough government, we just need to make them do their jobs.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    latest from the NoVa war room

    new support for a sales tax over a gas tax

    regional options are on the table

    over high likelyhood of stalemate and nothing happening

    There aren’t enough votes in the House of Delegates for a statewide gas or sales tax.

    We will not have a regional tax without a statewide component


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s the path.

    Index the gas tax and target it ONLY for maintenance.

    Offer each regional area – the opportunity to levy (per elected vote and/or referenda) to pay for their own needs.

    If we can operate Regional Libraries, water/sewer, and Jails – by have the member jurisdictions elected official and/or citizen referenda determine the level of funding… then we can do Regional Roads also.

    New roads that primarily serve localities or regions need to be funded by those that “need” them.

    Let VDOT do the maintenance and new roads that “connect” Va – the interstates and primaries… and let them fund them with tolls.

    what we have right now is a huge and ugly politically-influenced slush fund.

    Putting more money in this fund will do nothing but continue the abuses.

    We need to take developers and real estate folks OUT of the equation.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Now you are talking sense.

    One question. How do we take developers and land owners OUT of the equation and still keep the link between transportation and land use? EMR would say we need buy in from ALL parties.

    Would we propose to take Developers and real estate folks out of the Metro equation? or is that just for the new stations like Tysons?


  7. Kaine’s simple is indeed a codeword for a tax, but in this post, so is complex as used in the post above. Complex is nothing more than a new set of taxes that instead of paying simply at the pump, we would pay to some regional authority — plus another 50% in overhead so the Australians at Transurban and Macquarie who will then own the roads can give us that “complexity” that ensures the solution is a legitimate one.

    The problem of misallocation of resources and trust fund raiding is not solved by making the system more complex. That just feeds the beast. It’s better to address the heart of the problem with a constitutional amendment that restricts the ability of VDOT and the legislature to waste money (e.g. on the train to Dulles) and has some kind of language that forces VDOT to allocate construction money according to some kind of congestion reduction formula based on measurable data. (See initiative 985 in Washington state.)

    Yeah, amending is very difficult in VA. But so what. The abuser fee fight showed that the worthless General Assembly can be bullied by the people into doing the right thing on a transportation issue. Jim Gilmore showed that transportation issues can be used to win an election. All it takes is a leader with the right plan.

    As New York City proved, tolling is a political loser. If you can’t do it there, you can’t do it anywhere.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I think that your assertion that the transportation crisis is not statewide is not borne out by the facts.

    Due to the increasing amount of money going to maintenance rather than construction, the Six-Year Secondary Road Construction Program that all but Henrico and Arlington must adopt in order to build new roads or upgrade existing roads have now become 10 to 20 year construction programs.

    The Rural Road program of VDOT used to upgrade unpaved roads in counties has insufficient money to be effective.

    Yes, the biggest needs are found in NOVA and HR, but counties in other parts of the state are also having a transportation crisis.

    Take your urban blinders off.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    two-step common-sense approach to taxes

    1. – for a statewide increase, should the localities expect any more in new tax revenues than what the increased taxes on the citizens in their own jurisdiction would generate?

    2. – If the answer to 1. above is No – then why not offer each locality the local option if they decide they have local needs that need funding?

    For the folks that think the answer to 1. above is Yes… tell me again how this works?

    we’re going to raise taxes statewide and some localities will get more than others on a per capita basis…

    What locality with half a brain is going to sign on to this kind of a thing without knowing what they will get out of the state-wide increase?

    Every single locality in Virginia is holding a mostly worthless VDOT wish list that got defunded when Schucet blew the whistle on VDOT bogus financial affiars…

    not a one of them is going to sign on to a statewide increase without someone showing them how such an increase is going to help the projects on their list.

    Let’s say it’s 10 cents.

    10 cents gets you 500 million.

    let’s Pretend that NONE of it goes for maintenance even though 250 million is targeted..

    That’s about $65 per capita.

    take a place like Fredericksburg with about 300K population…

    That’s about 20 million dollars.

    HR/TW might get 60-70 million.. towards a tunnel that costs what .. a billion?

    They could save it up and have almost enough in ten years but then of course, inflation would likely double the tunnel cost…

    the numbers don’t work.

    this is why about 3/4 of the states are looking into tolls…

    show me how the numbers do work.. if you don’t buy the above …

    are the pro-gas tax folks thinking that it’s realistic to think the GA will go for 20 or 30 cents a gallon?

    I’d just like to see someone else go through the numbers and show how they work.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “we’re going to raise taxes statewide and some localities will get more than others on a per capita basis…”

    You assume that benefits accrue only to the location where funds are spent. Because NOVS and HR contribute so much to the state economy it is (probably) worth some little pittance to other reagions to see that money keeps flowing.

    Anyway, this is transportation, why should a per capita bais matter? As you point out, not everybody uses the roads the same amount. How about if we allocate the funds on vehicle miles traveled, same as you would like to collect the funds?


    Tolls don’t work either. They try to extract the same money from fewer people, so instead of $65 per capita, it’s $65 a week for handful of select capitas.

    And, as Bob points out, they are still expensive and carry a very high overhead. It’s a helluva price to pay just to say you didn’t raise “taxes”.

    Roads are, and need to be, funded by various taxes to touch various kind of beneficiaries. Those taxes earmarked for transportation have been raided in the past, and now we have to pay the piper.

    Let’s face up the the fact the the new funds we need to raise now were already spent on something other than transportation in the past. We can’t blame all of this on runaway auto dependency etc. We are really raising money now for transportation because the transportation money was previously spent on projects the GA didn’t have the spine to raise suffincient revenue to support.

    Tolls are going to amount to a cherry picking field day by corporations anxious to getthe most lucraive routes. They will insist on noncompete clauses to prevent new road construction, which is one reason the kill-the- auto-bunch support tolls.

    If anything will kill-the-auto, it will be higher fuel costs. Now, and when they are all electric. The gas tax may not build that many roads, but the ropads we have will be less congested, and less polluted.


  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The state actually does not fund per capita…

    it uses a formula.. perhaps Wamsley knows the link to it…

    but you speculate that some localities “ought to be willing to consider”…

    is that a reasonable expectation?

    .. and I hear your opposition to the tolls…

    but did you show how the numbers will work?

    For instance, NoVa says they will need 300 million a year.

    How high would the statewide gas tax have to go to generate an additional 300 million for NoVa?

    Come up with a number for how high the gas tax would have to go up to provide that level of funding.

    once you get that number.. tell me if you think that is the path that the state ought to take…

    that’s what’s missing from the dialogs here…

    we have lots of folks saying that they don’t like the toll idea and they think we should do it with the gas tax.

    .. but so far.. no one has gone through the numbers to show how high the tax would need to go up..

    it seems to me that the advocacy is basically to say “more” and I don’t think that is really dealing with the issue at all..

    the question remains:

    Say specifically what the GA should do at their upcoming session.

    Name the specifics.

    If no one in this blog can or is willing to give it a shot..then dissing the GA for their .. lack of action.. is kettle pot black.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Only fools and Al Qaeda think that the GA could tax, spend and build its way out of the transportation mess. We cannot afford to build VDOT’s (or is it Al Qaeda’s wish list) from either a financial or an environmental perspective.

    This is not an argument against raising taxes or fees, much less, a suggestion not to build any more roads. Nor is it reasonable to think that we’ll live in efficiency apartments and walk to work.

    We probably need more money for transportation and there are sound projects to be built. But we need to look at other solutions beyond tax and spend. Real transit oriented development could be part of an improvement, as could telecommuting, traffic signal synchronization, spot improvements, shuttle bus coordination, staggered work hours, and ensuring that good jobs can be found in outlying areas, as well as in urban ones.

    We also need process reform, both at the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the NVTA. We still see too many projects being approved or pushed for development purposes, rather than to improve the ability to move people and goods in a safe and efficient manner.


  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    let me ask the opposite question then.

    If the GA decides that there will not be separate NoVA and HR/TW funding and authorities will that be acceptable?

    I’m might be away for a couple of days.. which I’m sure will be a well-deserved break for those who see way too much of my words anyhow..

  14. Groveton Avatar


    Thank you for your articulate and logical repudiation of the SOQ financial transfer process:

    ” It makes no sense to raise taxes statewide to solve regional problems. One of two things will happen: Either (a) regions outside NoVa and HR will wind up taxing more and building more than they really need, with lots of money dumped into projects of dubious value or (b) excess funds money will be transferred to NoVa and HR from the rest of the state.”.

    Oh wait … you weren’t talking about education subsidies…. You were talking about transportation. I see. And those regional transfers are really, really unfair … in transportation. But not when the transfers are used to subsidize “too low” tax rates for education. Hmmmm… I see.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “How high would the statewide gas tax have to go to generate an additional 300 million for NoVa?”

    It’s a two edged sword. if the gas tax/prices go high enough, people will drive less and we won’t need as much money. That would mean that tolls would be less attractive, and congestion tolls less needed. Also, with tolls, you have to add the cost of creating and operating the infrastructure – on top of the 300 million you wish to net.

    Raising the gas tax is not a call for MORE, but instead it is really a call for LESS.

    I know the state doesn’t fund on a per capita basis, but you brought it up. $300 million is 300 million and it is going to come from somewhwere. On a per capita basis, it is the same amount of money whether you tax road usage, gas, or air.

    We don’t know how high the gas tax would have to be to raise the funds, and it doesn’t matter: it is what it is. We don’t know how high the tolls would have to be either, but if they are too high, they will fail, unless they are universal. If they are going to be universal, might as well have a gas tax: at least it encourages conservation and smaller cars.

    We call this a transportation mess, but i suspect even EMR would agree with me if I say it is relly a governance mess. We spent money raised for transportation on other projects. The government lied to us when they put the transportation fund in place. They used agreements to raise funds for transportation to actually raise funds for other projects.

    And now, we say we are so far behind we cannot build our way out. That might be true if you consider only road and auto solutions. It might still be true if you throw in transit solutions.

    But those are NOT the only solutions. No one is seriously considering what it would take to relocate enough jobs to relieve the congestion situation. We KNOW that this could work, and wouldn’t even take all that much to accomplish – congestion is greatly reduced on holidays, for example, even when they ae not widely observed.

    Yes, I actually think there are places and conditions where tolls might work: bridges for example. But, I object to characterizing them as a user pays scenario when the funds will be redistributed to others. I object to saying auto drivers don’t pay their way without considering that they ALSO already pay for the subsidies of others, AND that the “subsidies” that drivers get are mostly paid for – by drivers. I object to overly balkanizing the issue with regional considerations, and not considering that the regions ARE somewhat co-dependent. I object to proposing “solutions” that are little more than political dogma – of whatever stripe.

    How many bridges are we going to let fall in the river, before we decide we need to do something? how much truly unnecessary congestion waste and pollution will we endure before we decide to use ALL of the reasonable approaches to fix it, wherever they work best, instead of focusing on ONE solution which we will pound to fit and paint to match any conceivable problem?


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray, without political reform of the “transportation process” in Virginia, there is no certainty, indeed, even likelihood, that higher taxes and fees would go to fix the deteriorated bridges in Virginia. Look at the projects in the 2030 plan. There are many that simply are designed to foster more real estate development for well-connected companies and individuals. I know a number of individuals who support transportation tax increases who would also agree with my conclusion.

    There is a large segment of the real estate industry that is as addicted to taxpayer subsidies just as some poor souls are addicted to heroin or cocaine. And it’s not just road money. There are many desperate people who paid large premiums for land at Tysons Corner on the assumption that taxpayers and DTR users would pick up the tab for the Silver Line through Tysons Corner.

    But this is not a foundation for good public policy. We need political reform now.

    I’d also submit that the same political pressure cause some, but certainly not all, of the resistance to working other partial solutions to our mess. We need to implement , traffic signal synchronization, spot improvements, shuttle bus coordination, staggered work hours, and ensuring that good jobs can be found in outlying areas, as well as in urban ones.” Will they fix all of the problems? No, we probably need additional revenue and road and transit investments. But what business manager would immediately raise prices or spend more money without first/also trying less costly options as well? But to some, improvement in transportation is the enemy of their true goal — finding someone to spend big sums of public money to enrich their landholdings.

    We need political reform in Virginia and it has nothing to do with political parties or ideology. Neither Virginia liberals nor conservatives have proven themselves capable of operating in the public interest.


  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Prelude to Paralysis

    The battle lines have been drawn


    House Repubs just want regional authorities

    Kaine and Senate Ds want statewide maintanence tax as well

    Who will blink first


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “There are many that simply are designed to foster more real estate development for well-connected companies and individuals.”

    I agree there is a priority problem. On the other hand, we acknowledge that transportation and land use are closely related. ANY new road will benefit someone more than others. Some work harder and spend more to try to collect that benefit. Get over it.

    Economy, Environment, Equality. I don’t think you can have one without both of the others, so I don’t see any point in beating up on profits. I’ll agree that there is an equality problem, in that some enjoy a good economy and environment more than others. That some pay more for supporting the environment than others.

    But, if we want an equal share in the economy and environment, we have to first shed our aversion to profits – and probably, to subsidies as well. Those of us who are small and not well connected, are going to need the most help, after all.

    (The environment, in my book, includes roads.)


  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray – the issue is not profits or even development per se. Rather, my concern is that we are spending scarce resources not on the projects that would necessarily produce the best returns on investment in terms of improved travel times or safety. Rather, elected and appointed officials are permitting tax dollars to fund lesser projects that just happen to be near some real estate holdings purchased on speculation or that would have significant value only with taxpayer investments in roads or other transportation facilities.

    The public interest is being subverted on a regular basis in Virginia. Instead of patting themselves on the back, our leaders ought to be working towards reform. That is not inconsistent with growth and profits, but is contrary to Virginia’s Good Old Boy (and, in some cases, Good Old Girl) way of doing things. That needs to change.


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “my concern is that we are spending scarce resources not on the projects that would necessarily produce the best returns on investment in terms of improved travel times or safety.”

    Travel times and safety are important, but they are not the only goals. Economic development and improving real esatate assessments are valid issues, too.

    Suppose we find out that the best economic ROI that provides the most traffic improvement, the most improvement in real estate values, and the biggegest economic boost is to simply tear down Tysons and turn it into a regional park.

    And suppose we could do it for far less that $5 billion.

    Coud we raid VDOT funds to buy up Tysons? Would that be a valid “transportation” initiative?


  21. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray – I probably wouldn’t have as much trouble with building transportation facilities for economic development purposes if Virginia was not seeking higher taxes and fees for transportation. It seems quite counter-intuitive to argue that public funds should be spent for economic development purposes, with the explicit or implicit promise that economic development would benefit the public fisc and then turn around and say that there is not enough tax revenue to build the road (or rail) for economic purposes.

    The argument is as flawed as the argument for taxpayer funding of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority in order to attract more businesses to keep down residential tax bills in the face of evidence that, year after year, the share of Fairfax County real estate taxes paid by commercial taxpayers went down and substantially down. Only with the recent drop in residential home values did the share of taxes paid by commercial properties inch up.

    This is just more Three Card Monte.


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