The Push for NoVa Regional Taxes Heats Up

In a news conference yesterday, leaders of 21 Northern Virginia business groups made the case that traffic congestion will undermine the area’s prosperity and harm residents’ quality of life if additional money is not found to build roads. They backed a plan by Delegates Thomas Davis Rust and David B. Albo, both Fairfax County Republicans, that would raise $417 million a year for Northern Virginia Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties by hiking local taxes and fees.

Reports Washington Post reporter Tim Craig:

The plan, part of which would have to be approved by local officials, calls for higher vehicle registration fees and a 2 percent increase in hotel and rental car taxes. It also raises taxes on developed commercial and industrial properties in the region.

“It’s not a sales tax; it’s not a gas tax. It’s not an income tax,” Rust said. “These are very directed fees toward people who are using the transportation system and impacting the transportation system.”

Here are the questions I have for Delegates Rust and Albo:

  • Where did you come up with $400 million? Is that the amount that you think you can push through politically, or does it have some connection with what’s actually needed?
  • What projects do you intend to fund with that $400 million a year? Let’s see the kind of transportation improvements you have in mind.
  • Is there a rational nexus between whom you’d tax and who would benefit from the road improvements? Put another way, would this plan, in addition to raise money, incentivize people to drive less, carpool or use mass transit? Would it encourage developers to build transit-oriented development and pedestrian-friendly communities? Would it, in sum, reduce the demand for new roads in any way? Or would it perpetuate Business As Usual?
  • Is there a guiding vision behind the investment of this money? Would you invest it to increase connectivity of existing development — in other words, to promote infill and redevelopment? Or would you use it to open up new greenfields, perpetuating the pattern of scattered, disconnected, low density development that is the root of Northern Virginia’s transportation woes?
  • Would you accompany this spending with any changes in land use? Or do you think that money is all that’s needed to improve mobility?

I have seen precious little indication that the business interests in Northern Virginia have given any attention to any of these questions. If they succeed in getting these taxes passed, here is my prediction: It won’t make a discernible difference in traffic congestion. Because the region isn’t addressing the root causes of congestion, Northern Virginia will wind up with terrible congestion and higher taxes. And the same poor, deluded fools will come back in a few years saying that $400 million wasn’t enough, let’s raise taxes again.

Now, there’s a real recipe for economic competitiveness and a high quality of life!

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6 responses to “The Push for NoVa Regional Taxes Heats Up”

  1. “It’s not a sales tax; it’s not a gas tax. It’s not an income tax,” Rust said. “These are very directed fees toward people who are using the transportation system and impacting the transportation system.”

    Give me a break. Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree. Let’s nail the out-of-towners, that will make them want to come here. Granted, we have a high proportion of out-of-towners here, but the vast majority of our transportation problems are our own, and of our own making, just as the gentleman from Spotsylvania pointed out.

    With such a tax base there is no nexus between who you would tax and who would benefit, let alone any nexus between taxation and representation. Even higher vehicle registration fees have no relation to travel: I own and use six vehicles for different purposes, but I only use one at a time. When the vehicle registration fees are increased, I’ll eventually be forced to keep the most capable vehicle (the largest) and accept the lesser efficiencies it will cause. If you want to tax travel then tax travel, not parking.

    $400 million is less than one one-hudredth of one percent of the built land use in Fairfax county. Even if you devoted all of that money to changing land use and none to improving transportation facilities, what exactly do you think we could accomplish?

    Stating that the pattern of scattered, disconnected, low density development that is the root of Northern Virginia’s transportation woes is an unproven (though apparently popular) theory, not a fact. In the 1800’s a far greater percentage of our population was scattered and disconnected than now. While they had serious transportation problems, congestion wasn’t one of them, except in the densely populated cities.

    I see this plan as a tax version of squeezing the balloon.

  2. E M Risse Avatar


    Great questions. Let us know if you get answers!


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    There is not one element of the NoVA Albo funding bill that imposes more cost on someone who drives 50,000 miles than on someone who drives 5,000 miles in a year. Much of it isn’t tied to transportation at all.

    Half the money comes from a proposed 30-cent per hundred dollar real estate tax surcharge on commercial and industrial property only. Inside a special taxing district for a specific project, that might make sense (if every landowner pays), but to do it region wide to pay for everything is a dangerous precedent and the first step toward a set of business only tax rates on many tax categories.

    Instead of a 30-cent tax on commercial only, the same amount of money could be raised by a 5-cent tax on all property, but NO! Tax the fellow behind the tree!

    The business community is going to divide and fight internally over this. Will be ugly. You should cheer, Jim.

    These are the same tactical geniuses who put a referendum question on the ballot and four years later have to deal with the “no” vote that was easily predictable. “We’re desparate! We have to do something!” First, do no harm.

    Say what you will about the gas tax, it is tied to usage and it raises the price paid for using the roads closer to the true cost of building and maintaining them. Any funding scheme that is NOT tied to user costs in some way widens the disconnect between price and cost.

    This is about Repbublican delegates getting off the hook to say they’ve done something on transportation that didn’t constitute a tax increase on the voters. The problem with hare-brained ideas like this, which nobody expects to pass, is sometimes they do.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    1:26 The “business community” has been the state’s biggest cheerleader for higher taxes. So now pay them.

    More significantly, these so-called business leaders have not given a bit of attention to the serious flaws in our transportation system — VDOT’s complete lack of cost controls and the fact that the CTB funds projects without regard to the actual value they provide to the community, as opposed to someone’s real estate investment. Rather, we see business people periodically jump up and down, while screaming “spend more, tax more.”

    Identify a single so-called business leader who has ever engaged in a thoughtful conversation on development, taxes and transportation. Rather, we only see trite slogans and attempts to finesse the issues. It’s all been glad-handing and back-slapping.

    Moreover, by forcing the local business community to put more skin in the game, we will see additional business people become engaged in the important issues. Instead of meeking nodding their heads to the latest plan to build Outer Beltways, Silver Lines, etc., we are likely to see more business people ask tough questions. Does this proposal reduce traffic or improve safety? By how much? Let me see the metrics. How are these 10 projects ranked in terms of return on investment? Are there less-expensive alternatives?

    Will the business community split over this? You are absolutely correct. They will split and fight big time. But, as discussed above, we (the residents of Virginia, which includes most of the business community) will likely see better results. Better and more cost-efficient decisions on funding transportation.

    Moreover, many people believe that one of the key solutions to the mismatch of jobs and housing in NoVA would be to move some business growth to places such as Warrenton, Fredericksburg, Culpeper, etc. By increasing the cost of doing business in Fairfax County with these additional transportation fees, for example, some businesses will begin moving closer to their employees or more likely starting initial operations in those locales. That would help to reduce transportation costs, overcrowding in NoVA communities and increase wealth and prosperity around the Commonwealth.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I see the following theme being pursued by the leadership in the GA:

    * – specific VDOT reforms including performance metrics for congestion and safety

    * – a “message” of self-help to Tidewater and NoVa – i.e. “HEAR this NOW NoVa/Tidewater – the ball is in YOUR court” – henceforth – YOU will bear substantial responsibility for your own land-use/transportation decisions.

    * – GA legislative willingness to pass enabling legislation for NoVa/Tidewater to generate transportation revenues

    * – TOLL roads – at the State and Regional levels..

    I’m impressed thus far by the GA in the breadth and scope of what is being considered and the strong message that more dollars without the things will not be the stock approach.

    I see elements of the Va Auditor of Public Accounts AND JLARC recommendations especially with regard to cost-effectiveness and accountability.

    I’d still like to know what influence.. what ideas came from Shucet.

    And I see a recognition by the GA as a group that business as usual.. especially from VDOT is not an option

    What viable options have they NOT considered in readers of this BLOG’s minds?

  6. If Tidewater and NOVA have to generate their own self help, the underlying old taxations and distribution scheme will still be in place underneath.

    The reason the previous initiatives were turned down is that NOVA and tidewater are acutely aware of that continuing flow of dollars out, and little coming back.

    The legislature has still refused ta address that, and, although the difference will be small, if Tidewater and NOVA have to pay additional for their own needs, then the underlying state allocation still needs to be addressed, and the rest of Virginia should also have to pay more of their own costs.

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