Why, It’s All Just Politcs

Via Badrose comes a link to an op-ed from one-time Bacon’s contributor (and all-around good man) Barnie Day on the transportation bill.

If Jim weren’t sunning himself, he might get a kick out of it. Here’s are a few gems. On raiding the general fund to purchase pavement:

And sure, this clever bill — and it is clever (more on that in a moment, too) — does raid the general fund. Sorta. In a small-potatoes way. But there is precedent for raids like this. The late, great A. L. Philpott did exactly the same thing years ago when he carved out set-aside money for an upgrade of U.S. 58 across Southside Virginia.

The RTD’s Bart Hinkle wrote on this same topic yesterday. Seems one man’s raid is another man’s S.O.P.

But back to Barnie. On the regional taxing authorities:

Regional taxing authorities? This is my favorite. This one makes local governments dance and chirp like crickets on a hot rock.

These Northern Virginia poobahs get elected by running against the state, giving away the store recruiting all the growth and congestion they can lay hands on, and by approving subdivisions helter-skelter and around the clock. Then they say to Richmond, “We’ve got a problem. You’ve got to fix it. Pave us out of congestion.”

The reality is they’ve got all the tools they need to straighten out their own messes — all they need except the courage to use them.

Courage and long-term incumbency are (almost always) mutually exclusive. But it is very entertaining to read the squawking coming from local pols who might — just might — be forced to put forth an ounce of additional thought before approving that new subdivision.

Barnie concludes that the governor should sign the bill. I think Kaine might, but he’ll tweak it as much as he can before then. Will this bill make a whit of difference to anyone stuck in traffic? Probably not. It will kick the problem down the (metaphorical) road for a time and in a few years, a new governor will be touring the state looking for support to end gridlock as we know it.
But maybe by then, we’ll all have hover cars, and none of it will matter. Except for the traffic clogged skies. I wonder if those could be paved, too?

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17 responses to “Why, It’s All Just Politcs”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Except for the conclusion (I still hope it gets amended to death), this is an excellent piece. Very, very well done.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Here’s another great result. No more GOP control of the GA and some real solutions, with consensus, and yes – adequate, long-term sustainable funding take place. Short-term gain now, long-term pain.

    Remember 2007.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: Better check your facts. I haven’t seen a Democrat solution. Neither side has one that actually works – or will work – at this time.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Democrat Solution — The last Democatic transportation solution was the 1987 sales tax increase that was going to fix traffic congestion. Didn’t work!

    While we have some thinking Democrats in the GA (Shannon & Caputo come to mind), many of them mindlessly repeat tax increases are needed to fix traffic congestion. Why would that work now, when it failed in 1987?

    Moreover, we no longer have Mark Warner as Governor. All intelligent thought has vanished from the Executive Branch. Rather, we now have the United States’ worst Governor, Tim Kaine. He campaigns on one set of principles, but operates under another. Next, intstead of working with the General Assembly, Kaine stayed on the sidelines, while chanting “raise taxes.” I’ve lived in Virginia since the early 80s and cannot imagine any other Governor I’ve seen pulling a similar stunt.

    Kaine walked away from land use reform, while paying it lip service. He hasn’t fought to fix the CTB’s “good old boy” system or proven that VDOT has cost controls. He knows that NoVA loses bigtime with any state funding scheme, but proposes higher state taxes and more state funding.

    Our only hope is that someone offers Kaine a federal position so he can resign! Then we’d have some room for the Caputos and Shannons.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    You are correct on the failure of the 1986 transportation tax in that it was not indexed to keep up with the inflation. Simple math. $1.00 in 1987 is worth around $.60 today.

    Without a doubt, it will take more that money to solve Virginia’s transportation woes. Unfortunately politics of today have not allowed true courage and leadership to emerge to help reach the needed solutions. I do hope that in 20 years my children don’t ask me what the hell we were doing back in 2007.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I agree about the need to index but it’s not the “fix”.

    Take a look at the revenues:

    Funding Sources
    • Federal Sources ($1.159 billion)

    • State Motor Fuel Tax ($844 million)

    • State Motor Vehicle Sales & Use Tax ($575 million)

    • State Motor Vehicle Licenses ($166 million)

    • .5% of the State General Sales & Use Tax ($407 million)

    • Other Revenue Sources ($639 million)

    http://www.virginiadot.org/about/resources/accomplishments_0307.pdf (page 2)

    But the bigger issue in my mind is that the increase in VMT (Vehicle miles travelled) and especially peak Hr VMT in urban and urbanizing areas is what is driving the “congestion” issue and the “fixes” in those built up areas are very, very expensive – e.g. Springfield, Wilson Bridge, 3rd Crossing, etc, etc, et al.

    Raising the gas tax outright and/or indexing it will not produce proportional revenues commenserate with the problem.

    You’d get “more” but it would not be anywhere near what would be needed for road-type solutions for the more congestion areas.

    So – the basic idea that more money is needed is bogus because we never talk in terms of specifics of how much we need and how much will be raised and which projects will be ranked and prioritized and which ones we cannot afford to build.

    The whole advocacy is for a “generic” MORE.. which is a classic “throw more money at the problem” solution.

    I don’t know if I expected the guys in the GA to get to this level of understanding – probably unrealistic in terms of simple ordinary politics alone but I don’t think money – alone will deal with the issues.

    The editorial points out exactly what I believe the truth is and that is that regionals like NoVa and HR/TW do indeed “own” this problem – primarily.

    Some state help perhaps but really irresponsible in my view for them to operate as if their own land-use decisions are independent and not germane with respect to regional transportation.

    We talk about balkanization. What about balkanization with respect to individual NoVa jursidictions and their each respective view that land-use decisions in their own jurisdictions are their own business and nobody’s elses.

    You only need to look at Loudoun County’s reaction to VDOT doing an impact study of one of their anticpated Comp Plan changes to see this.

    The message from Loudoun to VDOT was – “stay out of our business”.

    And then Loudoun turns around and states that the State needs to perform it’s responsibility.


  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    In my reading about this, correct me if I am wrong – but it appears that there is little to no money in this budget for secondary roads from the General Revenue.

    Most of it is for Primary roads and if that is the case, I suspect it is so that Virginia can get full match for Federal funds.

    What I have not seen.. is a ranked and prioritized list of which roads will receive the Primary road funding.

    Also not seen is a ranked and prioritized list of secondary road projects.

    Until we can actually “see” what the various revenue scenarios might have on specific interstate, primary and secondary road projects, do we have any idea how many road projects will receive funding and which ones will not?

    In other words, would NoVa, HR/TW and other regions like Fredericksburg have a better idea of what to support (or not) based on the specifics for their respective regions?

    It appears right now – that unless changes are made that all jurisdictions will not receive increases in funding for secondary roads – and may, if the trendline stays unchanged, those funds would be depleated by 2010.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Thank you for the valuable comments and discussion. It is interesting how VDOT is only needed when there are bills to pay. Loudoun is an excellent example of the disconnect between land-use and transportation planning. Henrico County seems to be doing just fine and prefers to keep VDOT as far away as possible.

    It will be interesting to see how local governments respond or get dragged into taking on more responsibility.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Good point and instructive about Henrico.

    “Fairfax has argued that such provisions [turning over responsibility for local roads to local jurisdictions] have unknown and potentially disastrous costs.”

    excerpted from:


    apparently disasterous to Fairfax but not to Henrico.

    Hmmmm…. and of course.. how could this be disasterous to Fairfax but not to the State also?

    It would seem that same folks would be paying – the only difference would be if Fairfax would do the deed or the state would do the deed.

    Unless of course, Fairfax thinks the state is going to tax the folks in Southwestern Va to pay for Fairfax roads – all 12 of them.


  10. Groveton Avatar

    I really miss Jim Bacon.

    Let me try to summarize the “logic” of the arguments posted in this thread.

    1. Evil local governments allow sub-divisions to be built willy-nilly.

    2. These same evil local governments then rely on mighty VDOT to solve the transportation problems that they created by allowing houses to be built.

    Where to start?

    1. Why are houses being built? So people have a place to live.

    2. Why don’t people move into existing houses built on existing roads? Because the population is growing.

    3. Why don’t people just spread out all over the state and make VDOT’s job a lot easier? Because the jobs are not being created all over the state and people need jobs so they can pay taxes and buy things.

    4. What would happen if there weren’t enough jobs for the growing population? People would be unemployed and would either starve or have to be fed by the government.

    5. What would happen if there wasn’t enough housing for the growing population? People would have jobs but would have to live in cardboard boxes on street corners. Or, worse yet, in Maryland :).

    6. Why doesn’t the state ask these “new people” who are buying the new houses to contribute to the state? They do. They pay real estate taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, etc. In fact, in Northern Virginia (because of high real estate assessments and high tax rates and high incomes) they pay A LOT of taxes. In fact, I’d bet that the average taxpayer in Northern Virginia pays A LOT more in taxes than the average Virginian.

    7. Why doesn’t the state insist that every locality generate enough in tax payments to pay for EVERYTHING that locality needs from the state? Because Virginia is (for a short while longer) a rural state and the rural legislature like to take money from the urban areas and give it to their citizens.

    8. Why do people “carp” about places like Loudoun County that pay vastly more in state taxes than they receive in spending back from the state? Because the big lie sells. These people believe that if you just keep saying – over and over again – that Northern Virginia is depleting the state treasury maybe people will believe it.

    9. Why do people pretend that Henrico is the only county that has thrown out VDOT when it is well known that Arlington County has done the same? Because citing only ROVA jurisdictions helps perpetuate the big lie that NOVA is hurting Virginia.

    The state legislature in Virginia is grossly incompetent and culpably negligent. VDOT is just one example of this.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Well done, Groveton.

    I think it was in michigan where a leislator introduced a bill that says whenever a locality issues business permits or construction permits for new business that they must also issue enough building permits for sufficient housing to fill the jobs.

    Such a requirement would introduce a healthy dose of reality to places like Fairfax.

    I think you are right about the big lie theory. We hear a lot of things stated over and over until they become truisms, even if they are are not true, or at least no longer true.

    Funny thing about facts is that they change from time to time.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Groveton – I don’t think local governments are “evil” but I do think approving new housing without planning for the transportation infrastructure that will be needed is – irresponsible and IS the responsibility of the same local government that approved the housing to start with – not VDOT and not RoVa.

    Let me ask you how you would feel if local governments approved housing and then it was determined that the jurisdiction has insufficient water and sewer to serve the new housing?

    Would you blame this on the state?

    How would you feel if it Actually WERE a state responsibility to provide water/sewer no matter when, where, how, a locality decided to approve new homes even if those homes were miles from the nearest available tap and/or in much higher densities than the existing lines could handle without very expensive upgrading?

    The logic I am hearing is along the lines of “people have to live somewhere” and they “do pay taxes” and “besides.. it’s not fair that Virginia takes more of NoVA taxes”
    … so yadda yadda .. blather about everything but the precise problem…

    … therefore – it is “okay” for NoVa to approve new homes without planning for the transportation infrastructure that will be needed to serve those homes…

    .. and .. it is “up to the state” to step in and makes things “right”.

    Okay.. these were my words.. but that’s what I think I am hearing.

    This is not about whether or not people want to get jobs and/or live in NoVa or commute … this is about how to provide the necessary infrastructure to serve their needs.

    This is a simple thing in my view.

    If we did water/sewer like we do roads – we’d have a very similiar disaster.

    My view is that – it is irresponsible for localities to approve new development if they do not commit to provide – adequate infrastructure to serve them.

    The answer is simple. You have to charge for what it takes to provide adequate infrastructure.

    If you don’t do this – you end up with huge problems because at the end of the day – the only place that the money can come from – is from the folks who need the housing.

    Okay.. so where am I wrong on this?

  13. Groveton Avatar


    I guess where I think you are wrong is in the following areas:

    1. In Virginia, the state government has the vast majority of the power. This is the best description of that situation I have come across –


    It is fair and balanced. I think the following paragraph from that article is particularly important:

    As one may infer from the discussion so far, state courts, state legislatures (and sometimes state constitutions) determine whether a particular state follows Home Rule or Dillon’s Rule. Unless the doctrine is set forth in a state constitution, as it is with some home rule jurisdictions, the state legislature may change the rule at any time. Data on the number of home rule and Dillon’s Rule states are hard to come by. The most reliable studies indicate that 45 states employ a form of home rule, while 5 states still adhere to Dillon’s Rule. Virginia still strictly follows Dillon’s Rule.”

    If the state legislature in Virginia is one of only 5 states that prohibit Home Rule doesn’t that make them more accountable than local government for problems in the state?

    I’d be very, very happy to see a Home Rule Amendment to the Virginia Constitution. I’d be very happy to hold local government more accountable for balancing job growth, land use and transportation. However, until this happens, I hold the state legislature primarily accountable. Fair is fair – if the state wants to hog all the power than the state has to hog the accountability as well.

    2. Population growth is a fact of life in the United States.

    Fortunately for the American economy the population of the United States continues to grow. This allows us to expand our economy while countries with flat or shrinking populations (like Japan and Germany) struggle.

    Unfortunately for the United States, this growth in population adds stress to our infrastructure. Some who post to this site (not you, Larry) seem to imply that Virginia should adopt a “no growth” policy until we reconcile “human settlement patterns” and transportation. This seems, to me, to be a federal issue rather than a state issue. I suppose that the federal government could stop legal immigration, vigorously enforce the laws against illegal immigration and vote in a “one child per family” law like the Chinese have done. Until that happens the US population will continue to grow with the related need for more housing and infrastructure.

    I see no way for Virginia to “opt out” of US population growth.

    3. The discussion so far – In Virginia the state has the vast majority of the power and the population of the United States (and Virginia) will continue to grow. Now we get to the point of local governments in urban or urbanizing areas approving new development without solving the transportation problem. Let’s put aside the unpatriotic notion that Virginia’s local governments should simply refuse to approve new development and tell the growing populatiion of fellow Americans to “go somewhere else”. We live in a country with a growing population – we have to accept that.

    So, being patriotic Americans, our governments are going to approve additional development in order to provide shelter to our fellow countrymen.

    The question is whether the various governments involved in providing infrastructure (primarily the state for reasons previoulsy cited) have sufficient funds to provide a growing infrastructure to a growing population. This question spawns three additional questions:

    1. How much money is generated?
    2. How much money is spent?
    3. Is the development reasonably efficient from an infrastructure perspective?

    Any good businessman or businesswoman would see the first two questions as linked. It’s OK to have relatively high costs (in this case attributable to growth) as long as you have even higher revenues (in this case also attributable to growth).

    Ay matey – and here’s the rub:

    The urban and urbanizing municipalities generate more total tax revenue than they receive back in total government spend. In fact, the newest developments in these municipalities (the so-called unaffordable housing) generate the greatest surplus of tax revenue over tax use.

    The assessed value of the real estate is high thereby generating more tax dollars per property.

    The income of the people is high thereby generating more state income tax per property.

    The real estate tax rate is high. For example, it is $.89 per $100 of assessed value in Fairfax County and $.57 per $100 of assessed value in Wise County (2006 numbers).

    So, what should the state do?

    Re-direct funds to transportation projects in the “surplus municipalities” by reducing funds given to the “deficit municipalities”.


    Because it’s more profitable for the state to develop housing in urban and urbanizing municipalities than in rural municipalities.

    What should local governements do?

    Get more money in proffers from developers than they currently get.

    Why is this hard?

    Development in Loudoun County is profitable (i.e. generates a surplus) for the state. Development in rural areas generates a deficit for the state.

    Where do you think the state should invest in infrastructure?

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Lots of questions and Lots of good observations.

    Growth is good and I’ve yet to see an urbanizing area Home Rule or Dillon Rule or in between that does not have major traffic congestion so this is a problem that is somewhat independent of the type of local rule and more global in nature and more indicative of a general failure to adequately calibrate the scope and cost of transportation facilities in urbanizing areas.

    But the best path for NoVa is NOT to continue the concept of the state raising taxes statewide and then to continue to “short” NoVa on the transaction.

    Wouldn’t the better path be to accept the self-help regional plans and operate more like Henrico?

    So .. your very last question.

    I think I already answered it but I think the state should invest in roads of Statewide Significance – as advocated by JLARC.

    And I think that NoVa through the NVTA and MPO should deal comprehensively with regional roads and I do acknowledge significant overlap on the interstates with regard to responsibility.

    Certain I think a case can be made that it is in the interests of all Virginia for the major interstates to function more effectively in NoVa but I have to tell you I think a major portion of the issue is simply peak-hour commuting traffic and that we will not be able to build our way out of it and that congestion pricing and tolling are not unreasonable approaches.

  15. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    There is much wisdom in your 2:09 PM comment.

    Larry had one take, I another. I will address three points.
    You have set forth the right questions.
    “1. How much money is generated?
    2. How much money is spent?
    3. Is the development reasonably efficient from an infrastructure perspective?”
    Many of us concentrate on the third question. This creates problems for those who look at things through a growth, no growth lens, a rural, urban lens or a conservative lens.

    “Some who post to this site (not you, Larry) seem to imply that Virginia should adopt a “no growth” policy until we reconcile “human settlement patterns” and transportation.”

    This is a handy straw man for those who are unable to grasp the implications your third question places on state spending policies. Much of the discussion revolves around growth and spending that requires state support of inefficient infrastructure. This we are against.

    Reports of growth and spending that is more efficient generate another group of comments and commenters. These commenters look through a conservative lens and see transit oriented growth as an investment shift from individual cars and parking lots to public investment in transit. Many threads consist of proposal, fallacy, whack a fallacy comments.

    “So, what should the state do?”

    I say, redirect funds for infrastructure development from projects that are inefficient to project that are efficient. This means re-directing funds to transportation projects in the “surplus municipalities” by reducing funds given to the “deficit municipalities” if by “deficit municipalities’ you mean those rural areas that generate a deficit for the state.

    Question 3 is why we need a long hard look at the allocation formula before we impose any new taxes on anyone for transportation.

  16. Groveton Avatar

    Great comments by both Larry and Jim.


    I think NOVA would be much better off taking more responsibility. However, to do this, NOVA needs have more consistent control of the tax dollars raised in NOVA and the use of those dollars.

    I think NOVA would have plenty of tax dollars available to provide all the services needed in NOVA and to fix the transportation / land use mess over time if there were no subsidy from NOVA to elsewhere.

    However, in honesty, the statistics on the subsidy that people in NOVA believe they are paying are hard to come by. I have read about subsidies in the amount raised and spent on education. I have read how the sales tax increase ultimately led to a bigger subsidy from NOVA to elsewhere. I have read that, in 2003, the citizens of Loudoun County were taxed $480M more by the state than they received from the state.

    I really don’t know how accurate these numbers are. However, I have yet to see anybody even try to quantitatively assert that there is no subsidy. Some people say the subdisy is a myth but then provide no support for their contention. The people who believe that there is a subsidy try to provide numbers but I have yet to see a definitive analysis.

    So, based on the imperfect information I have, I believe that there is a subsidy payed by NOVA to elsewhere. I would happily change that belief if there is an honest analysis refutes this point. I have spoken with several candidates for state wide office from NOVA and told them that I think a full and proper accounting of the subsidy (or lack thereof) should be “front and center” in their campaigns. They all say they think there is a subsidy, they say they don’t know how much it is and they agree that an accounting is in order. However, I suspect they are all more alinged to the state wide Democrat or Republican parties than they are aligned to the interests of the citizens of NOVA who they hope to represent. As a point of order I have only spoken to challengers. I see no point in speaking with the incumbents. They are the problem and I will not vote for them nor contribute to their campaigns – regardless of party.

    To me, the subsidy (or lack thereof) is crucial.

    If there is a subsidy from NOVA to elsewhere and NOVA needs more money for transportation than NOVA should pay less of a subsidy. I don’t care if the other jurisdictions raise their taxes or cut their spending. However, fair is fair – if NOVA is paying a subsidy then NOVA should get to use more of the money already being collected for what’s needed.

    If there is no subsidy then I’d be fine with congestion tolling (which is really just another tax regardless of the opinion of some “professional economists”). I’d also be fine with simply raising taxes to help allieviate the transportation problem. However, I’d want the local governments to have more control of the money and take more responsibility for both land use and how the money is spent.

    At the risk of being repetitive – if there is (as I suspect) a large subsidy from NOVA to elsewhere then I want the subsidy reduced before there are any new taxes or tolls put on the people of NOVA. This is what I am asking of the candidates running for office from NOVA.

    I also agree that congestion seems to plague Dillon Rule states and Home Rule states alike. My only point is that, in a strict Dillon Rule state, the state legislature has to take more responsibility for everything that happens in the state. Moving to Home Rule might not make any difference to the congestion problem. However, we’ve tried the strict Dillon Rule approach for a long time and it isn’t working. And – we seem to be in a small minority of states (10%) which think that a strict Dillon Rule approach is the right approach for modern times. Sometimes, when you’re doing things one way and almost everybody else is doing the same thing a different way you really ought to ask whether you’re right and most everyone else is wrong.


    I am all for efficient projects vs. inefficient projects. I just wonder how much longer we can keep debating efficiency before taking some substantial action – even if that action is sub-optimal.

    I think there needs to be short term and long term thinking.

    At the risk of re-opening the Bubbarella debate – we need more road capacity in the short term. Even if this is in support of dysfunctional human settlement patterns. Sometimes it’s better to amputate a finger than lose a hand.

    Longer term the local governments need to either develop a comprehensive plan that allows growth in an efficient manner or they need to cede all power to the state. Today’s situation where the state blames the local government for ineffective zoning and local governments blame the state for ineffective (dishonest?) transportation policy has to end.

    Again, at the risk of being repetitive, the state currently has the vast majority of the power and should shoulder the vast majority of the responsibility.

    The allocation formula is a disaster which I personally believe is the dishonest handiwork of a state legislature that put pork barrel politics ahead of the interests of the taxpayers. It should be scrapped.

    So, what’s a poor boy to do?

    I am contacting each challenger for every state-wide office in Fairfax County – Delagate or Senator. I am offering my help if they will account for the subsidy (or lack thereof) and work to reduce the subsidy if there is one.

    I am contacting the challengers to the County offices and offering my help if they will “swear off” any campaign contributions from builders, developers, real estate agents ot real estate lawyers.

    I am also trying to get my friends and acquantences in Fairfax County to do the same.

    We’ll see….

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “If Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — and their revenues — were stripped from the state, Virginia would be one of the nation’s poorest. With them, rural communities such as Harrisonburg and Danville can say they are part of one of the nation’s wealthiest.”
    “We don’t see a lot in the plan for central Virginia,” said Malvern “Rudy” Butler, a member of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors. “There is no money for rural roads.”
    “For every dollar a Northern Virginian sends to Richmond, only 66 cents returns to the region in services, Albo said.”


    so you really got two distinct issues going on

    1. – allocation equity, who pays, who gets, et al

    2. – once the dust clears what path should NoVa pursue with regard to addressing traffic congestion?

    Assuming EPA was not riding herd.. is the idea that if NoVa had access to LOTs of money that they could/should basically spend it on expansion of road infrastructure to ease peak hour congestion?

    My thought is that the issue about equity essentially diverts folks from the more fundamental issue which is .. given whatever money you’re going to get… what is the most effective use of that money?

    And of course, my view is that it’s not about building more infrastructure for peak hour traffic but rather putting in place demand strategies such as congestion pricing to shape the demand and to optimize available capacity.

    For NoVa – take the Regional Plan, get into congestion pricing, start doing what Henrico does – i.e. if you have a development proposal – perform the due diligence with respect to how you’re going to handle the traffic from it… via HOAs, CDAs, TIFs, proffers, et al.

    .. and stop worrying about RoVa…or at least… put that worry where it properly belongs on the overall ranking scale – down several notches from NoVa’s own Regional interests.

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