The Transportation Tax Panic of 2007

The first of a series of comments on the Republican Transportation bills in the Virginia General Assembly.

The Republican majority in the Virginia General Assembly created the Transportation Tax Scam of 2002. It was the wrong plan, with the wrong tax, for a wrong, un-elected, unaccountable Regional Government. This year the Republican majority created the Transportation Tax Panic of 2007 in HB 3202.

The Tax Panic is supposed to protect the Republican majority in 2007. It marries good reforms (from a Hampton Roads perspective) with the wrong plan, wrong taxes, and wrong, un-elected, unaccountable Regional Government. The wrong is really bad.

This time the Republicans aren’t letting the peasants vote on the Tax Panic at the polls. They will call it the Great Compromise, pat themselves on the back and expect the voters to be really thankful in November 2007.

Except, the Tax Panic’s actual solution to transportation in Hampton Roads is the Tax Scam dressed up. It’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

In 2002, the plan for Hampton Roads was ten transportation projects which could be called pour concrete 1, pour concrete 2, pour concrete 3…. pour concrete 10. (The same kinda plan which addressed and failed for all of Los Angeles’ problems since the 1950s.) In 2002 there were 571 ‘congested’ miles in Hampton Roads. At the end of 20 years, after construction delays, accidents and deaths, there would be 670 ‘congested’ miles. That’s an increase of 91 congested miles.

If six of the old transportation projects are built, how many congested miles will there be in 20 years?

There is absolutely no indication that this bill will reduce congestion in Hampton Roads. None.

The new unelected, unaccountable, unchecked or balanced Regional Government, The Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, has the power to impose tolls for congestion management or just for fun, but no quantifiable and achievable goals are set for “The Authority”. None.

So, the biggest headache in congestion, the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, is ignored in the Tax Panic bill. A new bridge will be built miles away to dump more traffic, mainly trucks from the Port of Norfolk, 20 miles up on the same road – I-64. But, no lanes and tubes are added where the bottleneck actually is.

Ask the Republicans pushing the Tax Panic of 2007:

• How many miles of congestion will be reduced each year for the next 20 years? Cite the reference.

• What other quantifiable and achievable goals will the unelected, unaccountable, undivided Regional Government, The Authority, have to meet? Cite the reference. Why are these metrics in the bill?

• Why do you want to raise taxes and create another layer of government if it doesn’t actually fix the transportation problems across Hampton Roads?

James Atticus Bowden

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20 responses to “The Transportation Tax Panic of 2007”

  1. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    James, thank you for sharing your insights. I agree with everything you have stated.

    There are many other bad things hidden within this bill – some worse that the November 2002 Tax Scam.

    = = = This bill advances taxation without equal representation. = = =

    The HRPDC/MPO now has each member locality with different numbers of voting representatives. This was done – badly – with the thought being that the cities having larger populations would have more votes.

    Still, it was not really consistent or equal. For example for Chesapeake has 3 HRPDC commissioners and a population of around 200,000 residents/taxpayers. But so does Portsmouth – with a population of around 100,000 residents/taxpayers.

    For a long, long time, Norfolk with a population of around 240,000 residents/taxpayers had 5 representatives (called “commissioners”) – yet Virginia Beach, with 430,000 residents/taxpayers had only 6 “votes” (representatives/commissioners).

    Now Virginia Beach has 6 “votes” – whoopee! But, if Norfolk has 5 and Virginia Beach has twice the number of residents, should Virginia Beach have 10 “votes”???

    Now, under these new bills – each of the regions cities, (which for some mysterious reason exclude a few localities such as Poquoson and Surry County???) has (drum roll please …tada, tada, tada …) – ONE VOTE/Representative!.

    Yupper folks, the tiny Isle of Wight County with around 30,000 residents has the same number of “votes” as Virginia’s largest city – Virginia Beach (now 440,000 residents).

    During the November 2002 regional tax scam we have a regional referendum to ask the citizens IF they wanted another layer of unaccountable regional government.

    2007? Nope – in fact, only 4 localities are required to have their BOS or City Council vote to “join” the new regional governme-er, um, “Authority” and Presto! – it shall be inflicted upon us-er, um “created”

    Yes – – you read that right!


    Did I mention that in 2002 the voters rejected regional gover-er, um “authority” with taxation powers, opposed by a 2 to 1 margin???

    Yet – every single BOS and City Council passed resolutions endorsing the citizens rejected 2002 SB 668 (the 2007 bill that is being recycled as HB 5056 and SB 1415)

    Gee – do ya think this new regional government is going to be created?

    Gee – do you think the majority of our region’s voters agree with this???

    Okay – so I have pointed out a HUGE problem – Reid? What would you do about it?

    Glad you asked!

    If I could, I’d follow the plan in my 2003 white paper that doesn’t create any regional government with the power to make decisions on its own, but that discusses regional issues once a month, has its “representatives” take the regional issues back to their respective BOS or City Council – and has their local government VOTE (on the record) – whatever the majority of BOS of City Council members support – that becomes a DIRECTED VOTE and the “representative” goes back to the regional body and casts the DIRECTED VOTE.

    Each vote cast is weighted based on population. Every 25,000 residents earning their locality 1 vote.

    Each member under 25,000 residents city would have 1 vote too. So that their voices ARE heard.

    But Reid – the GA is not going to do that! Come on – why – that makes far too much sense! And besides, it hold locally elected governments accountable! Gasp!!! No local government will support that!!! You just want to put a poison pill in the bill!!!

    Okay – well .. Actually I want a better way to conduct regional cooperation and regional decision-making, not a “poison pill”.

    At the very least – the bills now on the table (HB5056 and SB 1415) should be amended to add weighted voting based on population.

    Not doing so is another step down a path leading to” Taxation without equal representation.

    I think our nation fought a war over this issue – didn’t we?

  2. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Ops! Typo!

    I meant to write that Virignia Beach now has 7 votes on our region’s 45 member HRPDC/MPO – that is acting as if it were a regional government.


    HRPDC = Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not intimately familar with why the 2002 Referenda went down in HR.

    In NoVa – there was a concern about the money going into a slush fund with little commitment to specific projects and no ranking and prioritization…

    So … was that the same deal in HR or was it different?

    I “thought” that there were specific projects for HR.

    If that is true – then the reasons why the two referenda went down “may” have not been the same…

    thoughts, opinions?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Again, I would suggest to you and other bloggers
    Virginia will never find good, solid solutions to
    resolve our growth and transportation issues until
    we create a means to find a concensus to solve these
    complex problems.

    Utah did this with Envision Utah which brought all
    of their stakeholders to the table to formulate a
    plan that sought the best for their state.

    It is so sad Virginia which is home to:

    -the Jamestown settlement,

    -Colonial Williamsburg,

    -Civil War Battlefields,


    -Mt. Vernon,

    -and historic centers of learning, such as the College
    of William and Mary and the University of Virginia
    chooses not to pursue such an undertaking.

    We would rather have a small group to so-called
    power brokers meet in secret to hatch plans. Those
    plans are then presented to the GA as done deals not
    to be changed.

    Thus, this process prompts persons such as you, the
    Governor, the GA Democratic minority and Black Caucus,
    certain GOP Senators, major newspapers in Norfolk and
    Newport News and Northern Virginia counties such as
    Lodoun and Prince Williams to criticize this plan.

    What a miserable situation for the 7.5 million Virginia
    residents who need a good transportation plan, our
    business community with a similar need, visitors to our
    state and those traveling across our state on I-95 and


    Rodger Provo

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Readers:

    Please forgive my typo “We would rather
    have a small group of (not to) so-called
    power brokers meet in secret to hatch
    plans ….”


    Rodger Provo

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The thing that unnerves me about transportation funding in Virginia is that we know that the more roads we build that it will cost more to maintain them.

    So if we have taxes increases now to build more roads. What happens when those roads are built and added to the existing list of roads that already cost?

    It appears to me that this process requires taxes to keep going up and not stabilize or come down.

    People who live in NoVa and HR make salaries far higher than folks who live in Halifax and Farmville and perhaps have more discretionary money available for higher taxes even if they don’t want to pay but folks who live outside of these job centers don’t have as much discretionary money and will be hurt by tax increases.

    From a fairness and equity perspective – who can advocate this kind of approach?

    If you actually asked the folks in Halifax and Farmville if they wanted their taxes raised to build more local roads – that would be a tough enough question because they’d have to choose between better local roads and less discretionary income but if the bargain being presented is that taxes will be raised and local roads “might” be upgraded… AFTER the urgent needs of NoVa and HR are delt with then I cannot see their representatives as voting for this proposal – especially if the feeling is that once this money is exhausted .. that they’ll be back for more.

    Any State level commission that seeks to address transportation and land-use needs to understand and account for those who do not live in the high-dollar areas of Virginia.

    I’m not advocating balkanization but simply stating that the reason we have a GA is to ensure fair representation of all citizens and that those that hope for a State Level agency to “fix the problem” need only to look at VDOT to know that just by virtue of a STate Level Agency – does not lead to success and, if inadequate safeguards are in place, such an Agency can cause great harm.

    And the harm I speak of is citizen distrust and lost confidence in agencies such as VDOT.

    Once that confidence is lost – the path to solutions is seriously hindered.

    The solution to this is not more of the same in my opinion.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Rodger, I agree with you. In my private conversations with different factions and constituencies, I have urged them to reach across old divides and to meet with the idea of exploring areas of common agreement, which *does* exist. I do believe there have been some conversations, but nothing of the consensus-building approach you outline. Based on what you’ve said about is, something along the lines of Envision Utah would be a great idea for Virginia.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Jim, I would like to encourage you to revisit the column I wrote
    for Virginia Business Magazine (May, 2005) titled “Virginia needs
    a Utah approach to growth.” That group maintains a web page at that you should visit.

    I doubt we are going to get a meaningful program from the 2007
    General Assembly that will meet our needs relative to our continued
    growth pressures and transportation issues.

    My intention is to seek to put togther a Virginia Envision program,
    using the Utah project model. I think a project like this will take
    6 to 10 years to mature, but it is vital to the future of the state.
    California’s GOP governor is pursuing programs there dealing with
    energy, growth, transportation and global warming that are good
    public policy ventures for us to consider.


    Rodger Provo

  9. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Rodger, I would encourage you in your efforts to convene an Envision Virginia program. If I can help, let me know.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “consensus-building approach”

    who do you think would be responsible for initiating such an approach?

    It’s not like the folks who have been upset with VDOT or the MPOs have not asked for a better public process that FOCUSES on seeking out constituencies and stakeholders and INSURING that they are INCLUDED – and that the process itself is respectful and truly considers input.

    Contrast this with Reality Check – which – still did not truly seek out constituencies – and played some underhanded games with regard to representation…

    still at least showed that they UNDERSTOOD what those neglected/shut out constituencies WANTED – even if they were bad little boys when it came time to walk-the-walk.

    What we have is a Government apparatus that is now controlled by folks who have a long history, a track-record of NOT wanting collaborative approaches but rather dictated decisions.

    This approach … started to unravel when folks could more easily communicate at the grassroots level via email, and now blogs.

    Envision Virginia is ONLY going to work if those that advocate it are truly interested in an inclusive and collaborative process that

    .. as I said earlier –

    INSUREs .. SEEKS OUT participation and
    and commits to collaborative processes.

    If VDOT did this simple thing – they’d gain support and trust from citizens especially with regard to specific proposals.

    Whe citizens “see” that the “new” agency or process is not commited to a true collaborative process – the handwriting is on the wall and you’ve guaranteed a hostile environment.

  11. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Does the plan to create taxation without equal representation by way of new regional transportation authorities worry anyone other than me?

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I do note that VRE just changed it’s bylaws to have it’s voting reps tied to a locations population.

    I don’t think this is a bad approach
    but just like Rhode Island gets two Senators – there needs to be at least one rep for the smaller jurisdictions regardless of population.

    But if I’m not mistaken, the GA has nothing to do with that issue if the chartered commission is an MPO.

    MPO’s operate according to Federal Laws as far as I know.

  13. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Larry: You don’t get it. No person runs for the office of transportation poobah. Being appointed from another office doesn’t represent anyone. It is taxation without representation.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    JAB – oh I very much do “get it”.

    But I always play Devil’s Advocate to make sure that there is not a built-in bias….

    I agree completely with the concerns about Regional Commissions, actually ANY commission that expends taxpayer money without direct accountability.

    With things like local regional commissions, and like School Boards, you do have elected making the budget approvals.

    ONe of the major problems is with the Fed transportation dollars which are allocated to Virginia and then re-allocated to MPOs.

    BUT except for the bigger MPOs (of which NoVa and HR ARE) – the actuall allocation of funds to projects is done by VDOT.

    Now – you guys have a crease in your underware about unelected regional authorities like the TPB in NoVa and the Tidewater MPO – and I don’t blame you and I agree there should be reform.

    But you kinda ignore the VDOT situation which is much, much worse in my view.

    What say you?

    Would it be better to have a local MPO allocate money for projects than VDOT?

  15. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    As far as VDOT goes, folks here in HR merely have to drive I-64 or read the newspaper to figure out that they are inept. How a project can be considered on time when there is nothing around for miles except orange cones and unmanned equipment kinda flies in the face of their claims.

    When it comes to regional bodies, the HR experience has been pretty bad. We have the local non-bus company that thinks they should be entitled to operate Light Rail, a trash operation that has succeeded in digging a big hole to throw money into, and our beloved MPO which never saw a transportation project it didn’t like. Well except the ones that would really decrease congestion.

    All of these bodies are made up of appointees, so you see this area is quite experienced with a lack of representation.

    Most of the projects that have been pushed benefit the port, which the state owns and they should be paying a large share to increase the road system if it’s such a crisis. These are the reasons the last transportation referendum went down in flames.

    There is a big booby trap down here, and the GOP is fixing to set it off with their dickering around. Too bad for them come the next election.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think folks are missing an interesting dynamic.

    The Hampton Roads MPO is a Federally-mandated group who has the responsibility to develop and maintain financially-constrained TIPs and CLRPs.

    The GA bill proposes to create a second Transportation Authority similar to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

    Now the NVTA was created by the GA the same year that they authorized the 2002 Transportation Referenda – and the intent was that the NVTA would then decide what to spend the money on.

    The referedna crashed and burned but the NVTA survived and still operates… identifying what it thinks the priorities are for NoVa – AND, in effect, having a major role in deciding where Fed and State money is spent in NoVa by virtue of their voting representatives on the MWCOG – TPB (Transportation Planning Board).

    The TPB is the MPO for the Metro Statistical ARea of Wash, Md and NoVa.

    Now flash back to HR – where there appears to be a similiar evolution going on but the need for it seems a big moot to me because in the Wash Metro Area, you have 2 states and DC that have to coordinate funds and projects for all 3 areas – by Fed Law requiring the MPO to do that.

    So we already have an MPO in HR and now, if this legislation passes, we’ll also have a transportation authority that the plan is will have control of the revenues from the whatever new taxes are put into place – and even though the MPO must approve the projects formally, the new Regional Authority would essentially be driving the selection process – because they will be allocating the money.

    The MPO will still have control of the financially-constrained TIPs and CLRPs which if they do their job (and many do not) would enforce a ranking and prioritzation process for projects.

    I’m inclined to say that this is bad stuff because of the duplicative nature of two seemingly redundant agencies and the inevitable turf battles like we see with other MPOs and VDOT but perhaps there are arguments in favor of this… I’ve yet to hear them and I don’t think they’re being made to the public who most have no clue about this.

    As important, perhaps more so, is WHO the governing board is and how they are put into place.

    And I suspect that even though the public does not understand MPOs and Transportation Authorities – they DO understand that membership of appointed folks associated with business and development who can only be expected to represent their interests will result in no real Plan for Congestion Relief – one that has specific objectives and benchmarks and performance criteria and measures.

    Basically more money for more roads.

    I think people may be coming to the conclusion that the whole thing is corrupt and that they’d rather be on their own with respect to congestion that to continue the fox in the henhouse approach to transporation planning.

    It goes back to WHY voters turned down the 2002 Referenda and what is being proposed that is different in terms of what citizens want and don’t want.

    I consider this a direct responsibility of the GA and specifically the GA reps for NoVa and HR. If they screw this up – they own it.

  17. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    There would really be no conflict. What I see is the HRPDC (MPO) actually evolving into the Transportation Authority.

    But there is more. As experience on the West Coast has shown, what begins as a specific issue authority, i.e. transportation, eventually mutates into a full fledged governmental body covering items that don’t have anything to do with the original reason for creation.

    The citizens of HR have great experience with city government imposing taxes for a specific purpose. But once that purpose is accomplished the politicians roll the existing tax into other unrelated projects instead of dropping the tax. Now imagine what would occur if this was done not only in the cities, but also through a regional government.

    One stated reason for regional authorities is to bring the decision making power closer to the people. However if the bodies are made up of appointed representatives the ability to have citizen input is actually less than if the GA kept the current situation in place. None of the current bodies have hearings that are open to the public. And seldom are their meetings discussed in council chambers.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Probably no one will want to read this – but if you do… look at the two Commissions for NoVa in terms of their membership and mission statements.

    The most obvious thing is different members for NoVa on the two commissions.
    One would think representation would have been the same ..

    But HR does not have 3 separate state level jurisdictions… so I do wonder why a second commission would be created especially since the existing one, the MPO is the one that must actually approve the projects.


    The TPB prepares plans and programs that the federal government must approve in order for federal-aid transportation funds to flow to the Washington region.

    Ludwig Gaines – City of Alexandria
    Christopher Zimmerman – Arlington County Board
    Patricia Winter – City of Fairfax
    Linda Smyth – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
    Catherine Hudgins – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
    David Snyder – City of Falls Church
    D.M. “Mick” Staton, Jr. – Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
    Harry Parrish II – City of Manassas
    Frank Jones – City of Manassas Park
    W.S. Wally Covington, III – Prince William County Board of Supervisors

    Northern Va Transportation Authority

    The Authority shall prepare a regional transportation plan for Planning District Eight, to include, but not necessarily be limited to, transportation improvements of regional significance, and shall from time to time revise and amend the plan.

    Hon. William D. Euille, City of Alexandria
    Hon. Christopher Zimmerman, NVTA Chairman; Arlington County
    Hon. Robert F. Lederer, City of Fairfax
    Hon. Gerald E. Connolly, Fairfax County
    Hon. David F. Snyder, City of Falls Church
    Hon. Scott K. York, Loudoun County
    Hon. Harry J. “Hal” Parrish, II, City of Manassas
    Hon. Bryan Polk , City of Manassas Park
    Hon. Martin Nohe , NVTA Vice Chairman; Prince William County

    I did shorten the mission statements… but they can be referened at their respective websites.. if you cannot find with GOOGLE.. yell at me…

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “…we know that the more roads we build that it will cost more to maintain them.”

    I know that if I build a fence, it will cost me more to maintain it. The question is whether the value of raising livestock is greater than the value of raising hay. And, is the increased value worth the cost.

    In my case, the value is obviously worth the added cost, but I still can’t afford to do it. I haven’t the revenue, or the time.

    I think it is clearly in the commonwealths interest, too, but they haven’t the revenue.

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    This is a different “Anonymous” since your “Other” identity category requires one to have a web page which I don’t. Call me Anonymous 1006 (don’t try to figure out this number – – it’s not anything obvious). Comment follows:

    VDOT is facing a continually increasing demand for maintenance funds as the roadway mileage increases. It’s like a farmer complaining about how many cows he has to milk but he keeps buying more cows.

    I am not a regular blog reader so will not be participating in any dialogue re this comment. But I think that the metaphor is apt. Those who have heard me frequently use it over several years will know who I am.

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