Tim Kaine Versus the Mole People

mole peopleThe Silver Line extending the Washington Metro to Tysons is scheduled to open Saturday, and people are getting excited about the impending event. Mass transit supporters are hailing the momentous achievement, which provides the impetus to transform Virginia’s largest business district into a more balanced, livable and walkable community. Indeed, there is much to celebrate.

But others are lamenting the plundering of Dulles Toll Road commuters to pay for much of the project, especially the soon-to-start second phase to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond. Critics have ample grounds for their bitterness. The Silver Line constitutes a massive wealth-redistribution scheme. Riders and property owners enjoying windfalls in property values will pay for only a fraction of the cost of building and operating the system.

Some day, someone will write a book about the Silver Line project and the extraordinary political maneuvering it took to make it happen. When he (or she) does, they’ll find a treasure trove of source material in the Library of Virginia. The state library is archiving 1.3 million emails generated by Governor Tim Kaine and members of his administration. The Kaine Email Project is making those emails searchable and accessible online.

Out of the Box, the Library of Virginia blog, is highlighting correspondence regarding selected topics, including the furor over whether to build the Silver Line under ground or above ground where it ran through Tysons. The controversy was covered heavily by the press but the Kaine Email Project gives a closer look at Kaine’s decision-making process. In a quick and superficial perusal, I didn’t find any great surprises here — Kaine was a pretty straightforward guy — but the emails do show whom he communicated with as he worked his way through the controversy.

This email dated Dec. 12, 2006, and addressed to Chief of Staff Bill Leighty, Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer, Communications Director Delacey Skinner and Counselor to the Governor Larry Roberts, provides some color.

Yesterday in our leadership meeting, we talked about the rumor that the [Federal Transit Administration] would send me a letter saying “the choice not to pursue the tunnel was yours alone and we had nothing to do with it.” Last night, Lin Holton gave me a letter circulating in Northern Virginia. The Tysons Tunnel group asked William Coleman — former Secretary of Transportation under Nixon and Ford — to write a letter that seems to suggest that the tunnel or no tunnel decision was not the FTA’s but the Governor’s. This may be the rumored letter — or it may give a hint of what a forthcoming FTA letter would say. I will give the letter to Delacey — she can provide copies to you.

At some point, we will be asked for some statement on the whole thing. Just to have a statement ready if and when we need it — for a press response or for a letter to the Mole People or someone else — I thought I would put into my own words a quick narrative of the process up to this point, trying to be diplomatic and not heedlessly hack anyone off (i.e., Congress people, Fairfax, FTA, etc.)

It’s fascinating to see Kaine grappling with rumors, responding to the circulation of letters by advocacy groups and referring to “Mole People.” Is that what he called the tunnel zealots? Pretty funny.


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8 responses to “Tim Kaine Versus the Mole People

  1. The thing about subway systems – as far as I know – is that not a single one has been abandoned as a fiscal failure and that includes the existing METRO.

    we have a phalanx of “issues” and complaints and cries of fiscal impropriety, egregious waste and a failure to be cost-effective – but at the end of the day – why, if they are so ruinous are they not abandoned?

    Then we have the focus on individual political figures – as if METRO had only one or two champions and they just overcame all the other political opposition – sic. Can we name one political leader in Va or NoVa who has made the case against METRO and garnered significant support to challenge it?

    And if you hate METRO for gouging auto drivers, you might loathe VRE – commuter rail that charges each auto driver at fill-up 2.1% tax in addition to the other Federal and state taxes.

    Amtrak seems to be another fiscal “loser” yet we continue to fund it.

    But compare us to Europe and Asia – and their view of rail and subway is very different than ours. They no more consider rail and transit to be “subsidized” than they do schools or health care.

    No so in this country.

    why do we consider rail and transit as ineffective and subsidized but not Europe and Asia and why do we not also consider other things like schools and law enforcement and EMS as “subsidized”?

    I think Europe and Asia are much more consistent in their approach – whereas here in this country – we are all over the map with what we call “subsidized” and what we say should be “self-supporting”.

    Did I mention that 1/2% of the general sales tax in Virginia goes to transportation – AND that – that 1/2% generates MORE revenues than the gasoline tax? Is that also a “subsidy”?

  2. Just back from a week in Melbourne, Australia. The Australians just repealed their carbon tax. In a mirror of American politics the tax was imposed but special interests demanded and got exemptions and special compensation from the government (i.e. taxpayers) in order to lessen the blow to their financials.

    “Australia’s aluminium smelters were heavily protected from the carbon price and in some cases were over-compensated,” said Hugh Bromley, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noting the industry’s effective carbon price for the 2013-14 financial year ranged from minus-$34 per tonne of carbon-dioxide equivalent, to $6 a tonne.

    In several conversations with Australians I heard a refrain which will sound familiar to Americans – the Aussies felt their government and politicians have been corrupted by the money from special interests and no longer believe that government is either fair or in the best interests of the people.

    Transportation policy in Melbourne follows a pattern which Jim Bacon would probably find appropriate. Transportation costs are very high with cordon tolls on private vehicles entering the city and plentiful but expensive public transportation.

    Like America, Australia battles illegal immigration. Unlike America, Australia has apparently finally had enough and recently escorted 41 Sri Lankans in a boat back to Sri Lanka where they were turned over to the Sri Lankan Navy.

    The net effect of these policies (and other policies) has been to create a huge housing affordability problem. According to a study of 265 markets across Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – the Sunshine Coast in Queensland takes out the number one spot as the most unaffordable place to buy a home, closely followed by the Gold Coast in third spot and Sydney in fifth. Bundaberg in Queensland, Adelaide, Melbourne, Mandurah and Woollongong also feature in the top 20.

    The full article on Australian land use can be found here – http://www.thebull.com.au/experts_detail.php?id=307

    “The objective of this study was to demonstrate what happens to property markets when land use is restrictive; when excessive regulation limits the amount of land available for development. “Prescriptive land use regulation” is based on “visions” or “plans” that prescribe where development is to occur. A good example is the South East Queensland (SEQ) regional plan, which provides a framework for managing growth, land use and development in the rapidly growing region. Huge areas of land are declared off-limits to development; developers are encouraged to increase densities by forcing more housing into existing urban areas.

    Such measures mean that greater demand from housing cannot be met by increased supply.

    “The fundamental problem with prescriptive land use regulation is that it prohibits urban land markets from functioning efficiently and creates artificial scarcity values,” the survey noted.

    And as we all know, scarcity raises prices.”

    This is Jim Bacon’s prescription for America. Jim will no doubt say that he doesn’t favor prescriptive land use regulation but will then insist that there are huge hidden subsidies paying for sprawl. He will then demand various regulations to reverse these invisible subsidies. These regulations will, of course, be prescriptive land use regulation. Jim’s theories ignore several important points:

    1. Transportation only consumes about 12% of Virginia’s state budget. Looking at total operating funds from all sources, the majority of the money goes to education (39.4 percent), health and human resources (27.7 percent), and transportation (12.1 percent). Source: 2010 – 2012 biennium.

    2. The so-called sprawl localities in Virginia (NoVa, Henrico, Tidewater) generate not only sufficient taxes to completely support themselves but enough of a surplus to subsidize the non-sprawl localities. How this squares with Jim’s theories of invisible subsidies for sprawl is anybody’s guess.

    3. Jim is somehow able to suspend his disbelief that the government of Virginia would fairly and accurately inventory and assess the cost of his invisible subsidies back to the proper parties. In a state where nothing the state government does is honest, fair, accurate or transparent this is particularly had to fathom.

    Jim should study Australia. He will see moneyed interests implementing a carbon tax that makes smelting aluminum more profitable than before the tax and urban-first settlement policies which have sparked a housing bubble and completely unaffordable housing prices. He should ten come to grips with the reality that transportation only consumes 12% of Virginia’s operating budget. Doubling the spend on transportation from 12% to 24% would increase the top tier of the income tax from 5.75% to 6.44%.

    Jim should also realize that Virginia’s spending per capita for highways by state and local governments was #43 in America in 2009 – 2010. The average spend was $544 per capita while Virginia spent $377. However, Virginia did manage to finish #9 in per capita spending on corrections (at $297 vs a US average of $252). Just getting down to the average would free up $360M per year. Finally, Jim may wonder why Virginia spends $34 per year less (per capita) on K-12 education than Mass but has vastly inferior public schools to Mass.

    Lots of things to wonder about that are more important than transportation in Virginia.

    • sounds like the Australians have the same problems as Americans in that they don’t trust government any more…

      Agenda 21 anyone?

        • I’m thinking that recent distrust of government and other institutions normally held in higher regard and the accompanying blame game politics is not just a US phenomena.

          But it’s not just one monolithic alternative want, i.e. that the majority of those unhappy all agree on what should be done instead and support candidates who offer than path.

          Nope – they’re all over the map in what they oppose – even opponents of immigration cannot agree on what the solution is, for instance,

          AND – they do not agree with the way it’s been before – for decades – under previous POTUS either.

          it’s like they don’t like what we’re doing now, don’t like the way it was done before – and cannot agree, as a group, on which path forward.

          AND – even worse – there is NO COMPROMISE – i.e. the antithesis of governance itself as well as a reversion to ignorance on science issues and the institution of public schooling (at least in the US).

          Jim B keeps preaching that we need to do X, Y, and Z whereas the political philosophy he most closely associates with has no intention of doing X or Y and Z only if they are forced into it!

    • Don, welcome back from Australia. Thanks for sharing your observations about the Australian experience with growth management. Based on your description (and the random things I have read about Australia), however, you are dead wrong to presume that the Australian model is one that I would advocate (and the fact that you think it would suggests to me that you spend more time trying to debunk what I write than to understand it!).

      (1) I am totally opposed to declaring land off limits to development. I’ve never advocated it, never will. I do believe that if we peeled back zoning restrictions and eliminated subsidies that there would be limited need for to develop new land, but I don’t presume to forecast the future with 100% accuracy, therefore I would oppose basing policy on the presumption that I’m correct in that assumption.

      (2) I oppose subsidizing mass transit. Mass transit, like roads, should be financed on a user/beneficiary-pays system, based on fares and value capture (taxing property owners whose real estate values have appreciated as a result of the construction).

      So, that’s just flat-out wrong. But here, you to raise a substantive point: “Jim will no doubt say that he doesn’t favor prescriptive land use regulation but will then insist that there are huge hidden subsidies paying for sprawl. He will then demand various regulations to reverse these invisible subsidies. These regulations will, of course, be prescriptive land use regulation.”

      My philosophy is to repeal counterproductive laws and regulations before looking around to write new ones. Of course, if you live in a world in which you tax people to pay for public improvements, you cannot avoid some laws and regulations to specify how the money will be spent. So, yeah, some laws and regulations probably would have to be written or rewritten. Still, the end result would be a far less intrusive government and a freer market for transportation and real estate than what we have no, and one that was far more neutral in regards to sprawl vs. compact development.

      I argue strenuously for compact development because the supply does not come close to matching the demand for it, and because it is running local government finances into the ground. Unlike some Smart Growth advocates, however, I don’t advocate compact development as an end unto itself. Personally, I like living in compact, urbanized environments but I don’t see Climate Change destroying the planet, so I’m perfectly happy with other people living anyway they want — as long as they pay their full location-variable costs.

      • Here’s a problem I have and perhaps Jim can help relieve my ignorance:

        this from WaPo:

        ” How big cities that restrict new housing harm the economy”


        Now, I read the article – and perhaps I did not comprehend but I still don’t know what the specific policies are that restrict housing.

        Further – when we make this argument – are we talking about all cities in the US and there are none who don’t have these unspecified “restrictive” policies?

        the whole idea comes across as something without clear definition and without at least some examples of cities who don’t have such restrictions.

        how can this be?

  3. or perhaps this – a list of cities with the LEAST restrictive policies and showing how they have done a better job of encouraging the preferred kind of development.

    or perhaps a model policy that is compared and contrasted with restrictive policies…. and which cities come closest to following the model policies.

    It’s hard to believe that San Francisco was cited as having “restrictive” policies that have led to shortages of housing.

    As Jim Bacon can attest – San Francisco is a dense city with varied housing stock… not exactly NoVa.

    yet San Francisco is cited as a bad example….

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