Pin the Tax Blame

Legislative budget negotiators are still batting each other upside the head with words today. But for all the bluster, there’s no inkling that any of them have a clue on the real scope of the problem. Case in point: This bit from the House budgeteers to their Senate counterparts:

“Although I can appreciate the desire of the Senators to get as much as they can in these negotiations, and I know these three Democrat Senators have frequently expressed support for higher taxes, the Court’s decision did not say ‘raise the gas tax and the car sales tax’,” noted House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith. “It said we needed to change the method of enactment for the regional components of HB 3202 to ensure a body of elected officials imposed the taxes. That – and that alone – should be the focus of our negotiations.”

So the question, at least in Republican minds, isn’t about more taxes for roads…it’s just one of whose fingerprints are on the tax hike.

Simply stunning.

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  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Norm, you’ve nailed it once again. The guiding objective of the GOP in this debate seems to how to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation without anyone really noticing where the money comes from. That way, the GOP can get credit for addressing transportation needs but not suffer the blowback for raising taxes. The result was hideously bad legislation, most of which has collapsed in a heap.

    Somebody needs to say, “OK, people, if you want better roads and more transportation options like mass transit, somebody has to pay for it. There is no free lunch. There is no transportation fairy who can wave a magic wand and made these things appear. The question is, who pays. Here’s the principle we’re working under: Those who use the roads, or property owners who benefit from the upgrading of roads, are the ones who should pay for them. Not students who ride bicycles to work. Not to the merchant who lives above his store. Not to the maid who rides the bus to work. Furthermore, those who use roads during periods of peak travel demand and in locations where congestion is the worse, shall pay more than those who arrange their affairs so they don’t have to.”

    I think the public will buy that argument. Not everyone will buy it, of course, there are always some people who want the benefits without paying for them. But most people will get it.

    And from that fundamental precept flows the various proposals that we have all discussed on this blog, from the gasoline tax to congestion pricing, from CDAs and impact fees to tolls for new construction.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Somebody needs to say, “OK, people, if you want better roads and more transportation options like mass transit, somebody has to pay for it.”

    well.. not “somebody”.

    The Dems are already saying this.

    It’s the “no mo taxes” folks on the other sides of the aisle who prefer to kill property tax relief, cut the funding formula for schools.. and in general play partisan games rather than tend to the public business.

    THIS is the reason why these guys are losing elections…

    Spineless, feckless folks… (both parties) are masquerading in Richmond as representatives of the people’s interests.

    What citizens need is the fast rack right to recall their reps right after the GA shuts down.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    It’s actually worse than you, Norm and Jim, point out so well.

    The Republican “leadership” is trying to revive the Regional Governments as the mechanism to build roads. Pour concrete, pour concrete, pour concrete. This expansion of government isn’t needed. Moreover, it’s all about corruption, as we do genteel corruption of political power in Virginia.

    And in Hampton Roads (Oh, how can I shout this loudly enough?) the 1997 plan they want us to eat does NOT solve the problem. It INCREASES congestion. It does NOT address the single greatest problem – the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”the 1997 plan they want us to eat does NOT solve the problem.”

    I’m not sure what “NOT Solve” means.

    It would seem to me that HR/TW decides the extent of the problem that they wish to deal with and they set taxes or tolls accordingly.

    You build what you decide that you can afford as a region.

    If you need an elected authority to accomplish that – then it appears that that opportunity exists during the follow-on GA session.

    If you don’t want an elected authority and you don’t want to work together as a region to address your transportation issues, then that’s fine also but expecting folks in RoVa to pay to fix the problems won’t fly either I suspect.

    If not mistaken.. that is the crux of the current discussions.

    HR/TW has to decide what they want to do (or not)as a region.. and then live with it as a region.

    NoVa has already decided. They want the Authority and are willing to do what is legally necessary to make it happen.

    Other localities like Fredericksburg and Richmond are waiting.. to see what the legal path is.. and then they will probably also pursue some level of a regional approach to transportation.

    About 25% of the population thinks we should raise the gas tax to pay for transportation.

    Anyone wanna guess where -geographically -most of the support for higher taxes for more infrastructure exists?

    hint: – it’s not RoVa

    I’d say it’s time for HR/TW to do something on that POT.. you know.. fish or cut bait…

    so what is the right answer for HR/TW ?

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    LG: Here is what not solve means.

    The analysis justifying the Tax Scam of 02 and the Tax Panic of 07 specifies a metric called “congested miles.”

    This analysis indicates how many of the miles of roadway in HR/Tidewater are congested miles.

    When you finish pouring the concrete and making the right people rich you have MORE congested miles than you do before.

    Therefore, the projects to not solve the problem – congested miles – they are supposed to fix.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    JAB – re: congested miles:


    What is UNIQUE with respect to HR/TW?

    Do you guys down that way think that the said metric is much different in most urban and urbanizing areas?

    Is the answer to NOT build more infrastructure… ????

    What happens to HR/TR “congestion” metric if you DON’T do anything?

    What I’m trying to understand is.. what does HR/TW want to do about it’s transportation network – as opposed to what they don’t want to do.

    How should HR/TW move FORWARD?

    or is the answer.. that many in HR/TW do not feel that they want to pay more money..?? even if it means even more congested conditions?

    I’m just trying to understand what they Region wants for the future.

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Reid Greenmun and I – and others have blogged the answers to the HR/Tidewater questions before. Here it is again.

    1. You don’t need a regional government to do anything.

    2. You don’t need new taxes if you do the fixes that matter in priority.

    3. The priorities are 1. add response teams on the interstates 2. add to the Hampton Raods Bridge Tunnel 3. connect the Port of Virginia southside to an improved 460 corridor

    4. Other priorities like a new mid-town tunnel or bridge in Norfolk when you have more money…

    5. Pay for them with money being sent to the Trans Trust Fund, matching fed money, bonds – and if still necessary tolls.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Thank you!

    Now I understand.

    Here’s a fun little exercise for those who wonder what happens to their taxes for transportation.

    VDOT’s annual budget is 4 Billion dollars.

    It includes, the State and Federal gas tax, 1/2% sales tax, and some General Revenue fund money.. tolls, misc stuff.. etc..

    now take that 4 Billion dollars and divide it by 7 million people (the population of Virgnia).

    My math gets me about $500 per capita…

    Okay.. now take that $500 and multiply it by the population of your county or region… perhaps like the one million folks who live in HR/TW…. and look at the money…

    then ask yourself.. how that money is currently spent…

    you’ll be shocked in you go look at how much annual money your TIP gets…. only a small percentage of the total money … that the folks in HR/TW actually pay for transportation…

    so .. can someone tell me where the rest of the money goes?

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Remember the discussion in this Blog about the existence of hundreds of authorities in Virginia with appoint boards…

    .. and the nexus between them and the new TAs on that basis?

    well.. guess what?

    “Ruling Raises Worries About Local Boards
    Agencies May Lose Authority to Collect Money, Some Fear

    RICHMOND , March 11 — The recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling that eliminated much-needed transportation money could also wipe out the actions of dozens of local boards that raise millions of dollars each year to pay for water and sewer services, parks and toll roads, local and state officials say.

    If the General Assembly does not correct the problem, several local and state officials said, they worry that a Virginia resident could refuse to pay his water bill and sue the local water board, arguing that the panel is not allowed under the state constitution to collect the money.

    The legal snag, which Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and local and state officials have discussed in recent days behind closed doors in Northern Virginia and Richmond, could hand the General Assembly a massive legal problem to address this spring.

    Lawmakers are already exploring a special session to address the court ruling as it applies to transportation.

    “No one wants to talk about it, because it could result in overturning water authorities, toll road authorities. . . . It could be a real nightmare,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), a lawyer who chairs the House Courts Committee.

    “No one seems to know. People have no idea how far-reaching this court decision may be,” he said.

    In a decision stemming from a lawsuit filed last year, the state Supreme Court ruled Feb. 29 that the regional authorities that legislators set up to collect money for road and transit projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads cannot impose taxes and fees.

    That duty, the court ruled, falls only to elected bodies.

    Although there is disagreement among state and local officials, some said they think the ruling also applies to dozens, possibly hundreds, of unelected boards in Virginia, including those that charge fees for water and sewer services, parks, ports, airports and economic development.

    Those boards could include Fairfax Water, the state’s largest water utility, which serves Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and Alexandria.

    The utility, which is run by a 10-member board appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets water rates, among other things. It collects $160 million annually.

    “I think there’s legitimate cause to be concerned,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), a member of the now-powerless Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

    Connolly said his board has privately discussed the court ruling, which he says reiterates that fees are taxes and that taxes must be imposed by an elected body.

    Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said his board met privately with the county attorney after the Supreme Court ruling to discuss the fate of several boards, including the Prince William County Service Authority.

    The authority, which collects $62 million a year for water and sewer services, is run by an eight-member board appointed by the supervisors.

    “I think the Supreme Court ruling could be interpreted to include those boards as well,” said Stewart, who is running for lieutenant governor next year.

    But Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who opposed last year’s transportation bill and was later among those who challenged it in court, said legislators are raising the concern only so they can justify asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.

    Marshall, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, said local boards act as “collection agencies” for others, such as the county boards of supervisors, and do not impose the fees.

    “It has nothing to do with that,” he said.

    Patrick M. McSweeney, a Richmond lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court, agreed. “I think they are creating concern where none exists,” he said.

    McSweeney said “traditional user fees” such as water rates are different from taxes that are designed to raise revenue.

    Officials at the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which last year collected $25 million on four toll roads in the Richmond area, said they are not worried about the court ruling.

    Spokeswoman Linda McElroy said that drivers make choices about whether to use toll roads and that a toll is a “user fee,” not a “tax that pays for road maintenance.”

    “This does not apply to the authority,” she said.

    Kaine and others involved in the case decided not to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling. Local and state lawmakers who want to clarify whether the court ruling applies to unelected boards said they might not know until another court case provides more clarity.

    But many are looking to Kaine’s office or Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) for guidance.

    “It is one of several issues we are discussing in the aftermath of the ruling,” Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said.

    The attorney general’s office, which represented Kaine and the General Assembly in the transportation lawsuit, does not represent regional authorities and is not looking into how the case could affect them.

    J. Tucker Martin, McDonnell’s spokesman, said that in the past 28 years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the validity of fees when “the amount of revenue raised is reasonably related to the value of the service provided.”

    The court reaffirmed that position in 2006, he said.

    Some legislators said Tuesday that they might need to discuss the potential problem later, perhaps at a special legislative session.

    “I’ve read the [Supreme Court] opinion,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). “I think the opinion raises many issues that we will have to look at over the next several months.”



    1. – what happens if ALL similar authorities are deemed also illegal?

    2. – does the concept of Regional Transportation – basically rest on the same legal concept of ANY Regional Authority?

    Comment: Very interesting. Prior to this article.. some were claiming that the “fix” to the Regional Transportation Authorities was a “technical nit” type fix.. just rearranging a few words…

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