The Pilot Gets One Right

Kudos to the Virginian-Pilot editorial writers! They really nailed it with an editorial prompted by, of all things, two proposed development projects in Chesterfield County. As the Pilot has come to realize, when the Virginia Department of Transportation pays for maintaining local roads, land use decisions made halfway across the state affect all of us.

Now, with road-maintenance costs rising and state transportation revenues running short, local development decisions such as those in Chesterfield County suddenly pose a question of statewide import:

If localities had to shoulder more of the road-maintenance tab, would they make smarter land-use decisions before approving development? Would they focus on density, alternative transportation and related matters to a greater degree than they do now?

Intuitively, the answer is “yes.”

Aligning transportation and land use decisions is only one of many reforms needed to tackle Virginia’s transportation woes, but it’s a good place to start. Getting the Virginian-Pilot behind the effort represents a huge step forward in the battle for public understanding.

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14 responses to “The Pilot Gets One Right”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    There is some logic behind making local governments fund secondary road maintenance in order to put some “political costs” for land use decisions by local elected officials. But this would seem to work only if there is also some rationalization of the state funding. I don’t think that this would work if fast-growing areas were to receive state subsidies from NoVA and HR, for example.

    It probably still makes sense to send some tax dollars to the truly poor areas of the state. But if I’m the BoS of a fast-growing area and can obtain significant subsidies from NoVA, I won’t make as good decisions on land use than if those subsidies did not exist.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    and here’s Prince William:

    “Prince William County will consider a radical proposal to get the governor and legislature to do something about Northern Virginia’s traffic-choked highways: Stop building houses for a year.”

    …. “the vote would be largely symbolic.

    “I think to get the attention of the General Assembly and, you know, the governor, I will say this would be a shot across the bow to say we need some help dealing with these types of problems,”

    I’m trying to figure out what PW is advocating for..

    Chesterfield, on the other hand, seems to be accepting the realities of approving growth – that it has consequences for transportation and that VDOT IOUs are worthless….

    Does Prince William think that other jurisdictions are going to be taxed to provide for their roads?

    I’m amazed that the folks in Farmville.. Lexington, Salem, Emporia et al.. would buy this bogus concept where they pay taxes and the state gives them to NoVa for roads… on the flimsy premise that somehow the economy in NoVa “benefits” the other jurisdictions…

    Why does NoVA … far richer than any other jurisdiction in Va seem to believe that it is the responsibility of their poorer counterparts to pay for their roads?

    and that’s what PW is asking for… when they tell Kaine to help them “fix” the road issue is PW…

    What could be MORE irresponsible than this? Let Prince William build homes willy-nilly and then let folks in Farmville pay the road bill.

  3. Come on.

    Prince Wiliam and Fairfax are busily paying for their own road as it is, and they have made it abundantly clear that they are willing and able to do so.

    They just don’t want topay for their roads and someonw elses, too. It is one thing to spring for the Fairfax County Parkway and the PW Parkway but it is something else to spring for a new interchange on the interstate.

    Then there is the issue of growth elsewhere clogging local roads. Growth in Culpeper is affecting Warrenton roads, so who should pay?

    It is ludicrous to suggest that Folks in Farmville are paying for Fairfax roads. Show me the input output tables, and we will see who benefits from what.

  4. I think this is kind of typical of what goes on here. We focus on one lttle problem and say here is THE problem and here is THE solution. Let them pay for their own problem.

    In fact, the problem is much bigger and much more interrelated. That does NOT mean that you need a much bigger and more centralized government to deal with it all.

    There are two opposing things going on. If you actually had the input output tables, what you would find is that everybody everyplace depends on everything and everybody from everyplace else. If you had those tables you could conceivably figure out who owes what to whom for everything that they are using a little too much of. And after you added all the debits and credits it probably wouldn’t wind up much different from what we have now.

    If everybody in the Commonwealth could allocate their individual tax dollars to the budget bucket they think is most worthy, then we wouldn’t need any “sponsors” to tell us how they think we should spen our money. And after you added up all the tax returns, the final budget wouldn’t be much different than it is now.

    Except maybe for the mattress inspection department or the state tea taster.

    The fastest quickest, most efficient way to solve the problems involves more freedom and more chaos, not more control.

    Yes, things will always be a little out of balance. Get used to it.

    Some imbalance is a primary requirement of any feedback system. The bigger and more massive the system, the longer it takes to respond. A school of individual fish can turn on a dime, and they all make the decision individually, but a supertanker takes miles to turn.

    If all those fish had to stop and negotiate their next move based on what affects them individually, the answer would come far too late.

    So while the problem is huge and interrelated, the best way to get the best answer depends on letting individuals make the best decision for the moment. Anything else will ALWAYS be a suboptimal answer, regardless of what we think about the common good.

    The fish that turn too late might be sacrificed, but you never see them band to gether to attack the shark.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “what you would find is that everybody everyplace depends on everything and everybody from everyplace else.”

    this is what I call “handwaving”. It the world really operated this way… we’d all just pay taxes and tax increases content with the knowledge that it was spent on good things to serve us even if we were taxed to death.

    If Walmart operated this way – they’d go belly up in a heartbeat.

    If the US Budget or the Va Budget were done this way.. we’d have as Ray suggests REAL chaos….anarchy in fact.

    Anyone who has every looked at a budget knows they have LINE ITEMS. Even your home budget works this way.

    You certainly do not look at your own finances with the concept of everybody.. everyplace… yadda yadda

    If you did that – you’d be out of your house and sitting in the street with your furniture…

    But for some reason.. when we talk about county or state budgets.. we think of them as everybody, everyplace, etc.

    In other words .. we should not have accountability for money spent.. and asking questions about specific budget items is a useless endeavor because “everything is connected” .. in ways that we’ll never understand… so don’t mess with it.

    Sorry.. I’m not buying it… and I bet most folks don’t buy it either. If they do – I want the turnip truck franchise.

    Prince William and Fairfax DO build their many of their own roads but the question is do they build ENOUGH roads for the population growth that they are approving?

    This is EXACTLY the question that Chesterfield County is asking. They’re realizing that when they approve growth that they are consequences with respect to roads – and that relying in VDOT is not in their best interests because even if VDOT had the money – the when/where/how/etc would not be coordinated with the growth.

    Ray, it sounds like you are essentially advocating to tax everyone including the guy behind the tree.. put it in a big pot and have some wizard of Oz reallocate it NOT based on giving back in the same proportion that it was given but instead on some criteria that the “wizard” uses to ensure everyone gets their fair share.

    I think this is fantasy. … a shell game, a pyramid scheme rife with problems… and not a way to do business.

    This is, in fact, the way that VDOT has operated for years. They get the gas money.. they put together an enormous list of projects that are proposed to be built – making sure than each jurisdiction gets ALL of their projects on that wish list.

    That list is called a 6yr plan. In reality, it has projects that are more than 20 years old on it and absolutely no way that any of them will be built because VDOT has promised projects that far, far exceed the money that they are getting with the gas tax.

    Now… folks want to raise taxes – statewide – to essentially continue this pyramid scheme… using logic that I would (and hope others would) very strongly disagree with – in fact, believe that it is the fundamental reason WHY we have the problem in the first place.

    To continue with the current system – is an invitation for more failure.

    Ray – do you really think that huge percentages of folks from Farmville are using Prince William or Fairfax roads?

    Or is it more than likely that the vast majority of users of those roads are in fact from NoVa?

    And if you think that non-NoVa folks are the problem then why not have TOLLs to get them to pay their fair share?

    Why advocate raising taxes on everyone… sending it to Richmond where decisions will be made essentially in secrecy using a secret process to reallocate that money NOT in proportion to how it was first collected?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Can someone post the editorial itself? I don’t get the V-P and this may be relevant to my area. Thanks!

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 8:06. Sorry about that. Here’s the link.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: not local traffic

    I acknowledge that not all traffic is generated locally and that in terms of statewide connectivity that we need “something” to build new capacity for non-local traffic trips …

    … but let me point out .. that for NoVa and HR on an average week day – that the VAST majority of the traffic is LOCAL/REGIONAL traffic … directly related to folks who live and work in those regions .. not some poor smuck from Columbia, SC on his way to Portland , Me.

    … The argument _could_ be that it is still VDOT’s job but again… where did all of those auto trips come from?

    Both NoVa and HR have REGIONAL MPOs – whose entire and sole purpose is to work together as a Region to deal with Regional traffic issues.

    On _some_ weekends and holidays, yes the “mix” of traffic shifts to out of state and yes.. those folks DO need decent transportation facilities also and thus… some funding devoted via VDOT to that purpose

    – but let me also point out – that when you and I go North – those states require us, BOTH auto-based Virginians and Va-based Trucks to pay TOLLs and that’s how they keep their state-wide facilities in good shape. We could take a lesson there in my opinion. Why are we taxing folks in Farmville to pay for New York guys on their way to Florida?

    JLARC advocated that:
    localities be responsible for Local roads,
    MPOs be responsible for Regional Roads and
    VDOT be responsible for State-wide roads.

    It’s a perfectly logical way to allocate responsibilities both with respect to planning and maintenance but also funding and it’s inherently more fair that taking money from one jurisdiction and giving in to another .. by virtue of some process that determines.. for whatever reason that such a transfer is justified.

    Finally, only when localities have no one else to blame for poorly planned and poorly managed growth will voters know exactly where to place the blame at election time.

    Right now, many localities are playing games.. they’re approving rampant growth on the premise that it’s good (for those who benefit from growth).. while bailing on traffic consequences and then blaming VDOT and the General Assembly.

    So when folks hear the words “VDOT and the General Assembly simply must do something about our transportation “crisis” ” – what we are hearing is disingenuous whining whose purpose is to deceive voters – in my opinion.

    Give Chesterfield credit – they’re stepping up to the plate for keeping their own house in order. Now get the other localities to follow their lead – and 1/2 to 2/3 of the alleged “crisis” will disappear.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Many thanks, folks. Tell me, do you know anything about a group called “Chesapeake Realty Ventures” that’s doing developments in Chesterfield? If so, what can you tell me about these folks? I’m watching their activities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Thanks!

  10. Yes line items, that is what I am advocating.

    On the backof you tax form put a simplified version of the budget: Schools, Roads, Public safety, Administration, Public services, Welfare, social services, Parks, etc.

    Let everyone allocate their own tax dollars to their favorite line items as they see fit. If you do that for every taxpayer and add up the totals, I’d wager the answer would not come out too different from the budget we have now.

    This is not handwaving, it is empowerment. When the roads are falling apart and truly inadequate people will respond. When public safety declines, people will respond. If they really want to dump a lot more money on schools, well then THEY will be the ones to set the priorities.

    Then the special interests could advertize to the people instead of having private pow wows with the people’s delgates.

    You would not even have to make the results binding, just publishing the results would make it difficult for legislators to stray too far from the expressed will of the people.

    And since you are only working at the major summary level, the legislators would still have plenty of nefarious work left to do fiddling at the margins.

    By the way, Walmart works exactly this way. They take all their profits and put them in a big pot in Arkansas, and figure out how much money it will allow them to borrow. Then they look around for the best places to spend it, where they think it will make the most return. You can bet that all the regional managers submit plans for THEIR favorite expansion projects and lobby to get them.

    Anyway, it would make an interesting poll to run for some enterprising pollster. Where DO people really want their money spent? Does anyone know?

  11. Gee, I must have hit close to home to unleash such a tirade.

    Larry, you missed the point about Farmville. Yes, it is far more likely that Farmvill residents will drive on NOVA roads at some point than it is that NOVA residents will drive to FArmville. But even if ALL of the farmville tax dollars that go to roads, one way or another, were sent to Faifax, it probably would not be enough money to replace the dilapidated stop signs every year.

    I doubt that Fairfax residents have any problem spending what they need to on road problems that are truly theirs, but you can’t expect them to pick up the tab for the Wilson Bridge, which is used by everyone traversing the East coast.

    But, if you expect them to pay their own way, then you can’t expect them to pay for their own roads AND contribute to Farmville and several hundred other places too.

    But, if Farmville has topay for THEIR own roads as a result, guess who will be hurt worse? It is a lot harder for Farmville to raise extra cash than it is Fairfax. That’s why we put money in a big pot and try to slosh it around a little.

    It is just like the Korean business clubs. Everyone chips in a little, and they all make a pitch for their business. The best business plan gets the money from the club to start up. As a result the club gets more money sooner, and they can start the next business a little quicker.

    It is not much fun if you are the last guy in the club, with the worst business plan, but eventually everyone gets a chance to make good.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Where DO people really want their money spent? Does anyone know?”

    yes we do.

    The latest POLL said that people wanted more Transportation Facilities but did not want their taxes raised.

    Your plan would ensure that at risk kids would be abandoned, that the sick elderly would be left in unheated homes to die, that violent felons would roam the streets.

    We’d revert to 3rd world status where you’d have the ultra rich behind heavily guarded compounds and barefoot children wandering through sewage-infested streets.

    Taxes ARE necessary in my view for basic civilization.

    The question is PRIORITIES and Accountability and cost effectiveness.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    my apologies for the tirade…

    re: but you can’t expect them [wash metro/NoVa/Md]to pick up the tab for the Wilson Bridge, which is used by everyone traversing the East coast.

    … ask yourself Ray – on an average day how many folks on the Wilson Bridge are not from this region?

    and also ask yourself that if Wilson Bridge was reserved ONLY for East Coast Travelers and the DC area had to build their own separate bridge – which of the two bridges would have to be upgraded to higher capacity sooner.

    Wilson Bridge – a key part of the I-95 East Coast Interstate … was CO OPTED by Wash Metro area commuters who essentially maxed the bridge so that it no longer functioned for it’s original purpose of connecting the East Coast.

    We got to this point doing exactly why you advocate – which is put everything in a big pot.. mix it up… and then pass out goodies to all constituencies… until you’re out and need more money.. It’s a failed model.

    Until you tie use to cost – folks will use a “free” Wilson Bridge.

    If you put a TOLL on Wilson Bridge – not only would you have your one billion dollar for other important needs but people would have to factor in that cost in their decisions about where to work and live.

    re: But, if you expect them to pay their own way, then you can’t expect them to pay for their own roads AND contribute to Farmville and several hundred other places too.”

    This is, at this point, an unproven myth.

    Until someone clearly demonstrates that NoVA road money is diverted to other localities – saying it over and over is in mind mind and with all due respect to you – disingenuous at best.

    This is a key and central claim by many who want to raise taxes statewide. It begs the question.

    If true – how much money is involved?

    You say that it would be a pitiful amount for Farmville to give to NoVA. Wouldn’t the reverse also be true – in it were a fact that NoVa “gives” Farmville money?

    I believe this is bogus as an issue – designed to confuse and obfuscate the real issue and that is at the end of the day – NoVa transportation issues BELONG to THEM. Ditto with other localities statewide.

    The concept of everyone contributing to a single pot and each one of them expecting to get back more than they put in – is bogus. It’s the way that pro-tax advocates “sell” the idea.

    I cannot believe that people are so stupid as to believe that because VDOT will put your projects on a piece of paper that they’ll get built.

    I cannot believe that localities (save Chesterfield) cannot or will not sit down and look at how much money they actually generate from the gas tax – and believe that the state and VDOT are going to give them back MORE than they contributed?

    In the real world – this is called a Ponzi Scheme – and we put people in jail who “sell” such schemes to the unsuspecting public – who are apparently stupid enough to actually buy this concept from state politicians.

    Every time I hear the phrase – “the State must step up to the plate on Transportation” – what exactly do people expect? Do they somehow believe VDOT is Daddy Warbucks who gets money NOT from taxes?

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The best business plan gets the money from the club to start up. As a result the club gets more money sooner, and they can start the next business a little quicker.

    It is not much fun if you are the last guy in the club, with the worst business plan, but eventually everyone gets a chance to make good.”

    Ray .. I can’t believe you advocate this.

    Do you know what a Ponzi Scheme is?

    If you advocate this as an approach to government budgeting and accountability …

    hmmm … all I can say.. is I’m glad you’re not elected to office… 🙂

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