Woo Hoo! Stewart Promises Billions in Toll-Free Projects

Photo credit: Washington Post.

Claiming the populist niche in the contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Corey Stewart has given away a semi-automatic rifle as part of a fund-raising effort, defended monuments of Confederate generals, and bashed Dominion Energy for its coal-ash disposal plans. Now he’s added to his rabble-rousing resume by promising voters to meet Virginia’s transportation needs without raising taxes or imposing new tolls.

“We obviously have transportation needs, and the way we’re going to fund those is by finding efficiencies within existing spending in Virginia. No new tolls; no new taxes. That’s what I’m pledging,” Stewart said yesterday in a Virginia Beach news conference.

Where would the money come from to pay for projects such as two more lanes for the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, costing an estimated $3 billion? Reports the Virginian-Pilot:

Stewart said he would eliminate the need for new tolls by slashing $2.2 billion from the state budget, which is about $104 billion over two years, and redirecting it toward transportation.

Under Stewart’s plan, the $2.2 billion in redirected spending would come in his second year in office. He’s proposing that on the heels of another plan calling for cutting another $2.2 billion in spending in his first year so the state could reduce the income tax rate most people pay from 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent.

Stewart did not specify what would be cut from the budget under his proposals, but said “there are billions of dollars worth of savings out of the state’s annual $52 billion budget that can be found.”

Bacon’s bottom line: This is magical thinking, and it’s wrong in oh so many ways.

First, it is a fantasy to think that billions of dollars of “inefficiencies” can be squeezed out of the existing state budget by going through by line item by line item — the only way to achieve savings under the current paradigm of government. Medicaid, a federally mandated programs, continues to grow at the expense of other programs. (Virginia, by the way, already operates one of the leanest Medicaid programs in the country.) The state is under-funding its K-12 schools based on Standards of Quality, and it has chopped per-student support to higher education. Virginia has huge unmet needs for mental health and substance abuse. It has massive unfunded pension liabilities. The list could go on and on. Anyone who thinks they can cut the income tax rate at a revenue cost of $2.2 billion and then find another $2.2 billion laying around to be reallocated to transportation is deluded.

Second, Stewart is misguided in his no-new-tolls stance. But at least he has a rationale. Quoth the Pilot:

What makes this tolling plan so absolutely heinous is that taxpayers have already paid for these roads. It’s absolutely wrong. It’s absolutely wrong to tax citizens twice for the same road. You need a third crossing, we need a third crossing here in Hampton Roads, but that project is really a state project. It should not be borne upon the citizens of Hampton Roads to pay for a project that is really meant for the Port of Virginia, which is owned by the entire state.

I would agree, it is wrong to “tax” (or toll) citizens twice for the same road. But doubling the capacity of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel would not be tolling the “same road.” Most likely the new tunnel would be set up as HOT lanes, in which motorists would continue to use the original tunnel for free but would pay a premium to use the new tunnel as a way to bypass congestion. No one would be compelled to use the new tunnel; no one would be forced to pay the toll. But everyday motorists would benefit to the extent that the tolled road diverted some traffic from the untolled road.

I also would agree that it is reasonable to ask the Port of Virginia to help pay for transportation improvements that give tractor-trailers better access to inland markets. But the most logical way to collect money from port-related activity is for time-sensitive tractor-trailers to pay tolls to avoid congestion!

Corey Stewart reflects the id of the Virginia psyche in which everyone wants transportation improvements but they want someone else to pay for them. Stewart is promising to find “someone else” to pay. Thus, roads and highways effectively become free goods — free to the motorist, not the taxpayer. In other words, Stewart is a transportation socialist. The Bernie Sanders crowd might be OK with that. But I can’t imagine the gambit will take Stewart far with the Republican Party.

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11 responses to “Woo Hoo! Stewart Promises Billions in Toll-Free Projects

  1. When Bob McDonnell passed what has been called the largest tax hike in Virginia history it was ostensibly to “solve our transportation issues”. Since every road project seems to predicated on charging sky high tolls for the use of the road I’m left to wonder where the extra taxes are going. Perhaps to help offset the company and industry specific tax breaks that go to The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond’s favorite donor corporations? You know, the tax breaks that never end?

    Corey Stewart could do himself a lot of good by talking about capping those tax breaks. My guess is there would be plenty of money for transportation of the crony capitalism faucet was given a hard twist to the right.

  2. Well Stewarts’ “ideas” for taxes and spending is no less looney than Gillespie.

    He is promising to give taxpayers an average of $13oo a year to taxpayers by cutting 1.3 billion in spending.

    and from this .. he says that it will create 50,000 more jobs…

    but you know what – there is no shortage of GOOBER voters in Va who will buy this offal from GOP candidates…. because it’s PROVEN to work!

  3. the era of major new “free” roads for daily commuters who want to solo-drive is over.

    Stewart is trying to grab votes from disaffected folks who intensely dislike tolls and can (want to ) be fooled into thinking someone else will pay for the roads.

    but at the end of the day – VDOT has decided to toll most of NoVa as well as most of Hampton and use the tax money for smaller scale roads that deliver bang for the buck (Smartscale).

  4. Reform is badly needed at VDOT–the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”– to get better mileage out of the funds it does have. There seems to be a drastic disconnect between the VDOT folks who cut grass, plow snow, and fix potholes and the people who make the decisions. The so-called Smartscale initiative, which sounds great, has some issues. For instance, improvements to the dangerous Rt. 288/ Broad Street Road interchange, which deals with exploding Short Pump traffic, have allegedly been approved and funded, yet may not be built until 2020. This is small potatoes compared to gridlock in Tidewater and NOVA, but it makes you wonder if anyone really is in charge there.

    • You are exactly right. NoVa and Tidewater get pimped with the tax increase but end up with tolled roads. Richmond gets free construction even though their incompetent build up of the Short Pump area over the last 25 years was a completely self-inflicted would. Like Maryland and the failed city of Baltimore Virginia pumps money into the failed city of Richmond hoping to eventually create a Charlotte or Austin. In 1970 Richmond had more people than Charlotte. By 2015 Charlotte was almost 4X as big. In 1970 Richmond had about the same population as Austin. Today (2015) Austin is more than 4X as big.

      It’s time to stop pouring money down the Richmond rathole whether the money is wasted under the guise of Smartscale or any other half-assed, opaque marketing buzzword.

      • Dude, the last highway megaproject built in the Richmond region was Rt. 288, which was completed in 2004 — thirteen years ago. The state has been dumping money into Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, not Richmond!!

        • You seem to have a hard time following the argument.

          I ask why there needs to be tolls on every new road project in NoVa when Bob McDonnell passed “the largest tax hike in Virginia history” to fund transportation.

          Larry says that tolls are for the major projects while the tax money is spent on smaller projects like untangling the self-inflicted mess in Short Pump, Va.

          I say that hurts the fast growing population centers that need major projects because they have fast growing populations.

          You disregard the conversation and claim (without evidence) that the state has been “dumping money” into NoVa and Hampton Roads. However, when each and every driver pays to use the Greenway, the HOT lanes, the Dulles Toll Road, etc that’s not really the state “dumping money”. Yet when the state fixes the mess made in Short Pump with tax money and nary a toll in sight I’d say that is “dumping money”.

          This morning I caught the tail end of a news radio story about the state wanting to widen Rt 64 from Hampton Roads all the way across the state. At least that’s what it sounded like from the portion of the story I heard. Let me guess – there will be no tolls?

          • Say it again, DJR, with feeling — People need to understand the difference in impact between State-funded and “P3” toll-funded, and what areas of the State are well-enough protected in the GA that they get the State funding. IMO the only rational way to proceed is for the State to go ahead and build these improvements (including at Short Pump) but fund them with gas tax revenue, and I can say that again with feeling, too, but it won’t make a bit of difference. Anyone who thinks we didn’t sell highway assets already built by taxpayers in order to charge the same users a second time to continue to use them, hasn’t taken a ride on the I-95 Express Lanes.

      • Well just got back from Charlotte and all I can say is don’t be slathering any praise on their roads.. they are MUCH WORSE than Richmond and rival NoVa… and I understand they’re getting toll roads also.

        I85 through Charlotte is an abomination…

        • I go to Charlotte about every two months. Yes, the traffic is a challenge. You want to know why? Because the city is succeeding! It’s population is growing as more and more employers set up shop in a city that works. Of course there will be transportation problems in a city where the population has quadrupled in the last 50 years. And I’m confident that the State of North Carolina will address those problems just like that state addressed the de-regulation of banking and stole the financial services business that was starting to develop in Virginia.

          North Carolina practices competent conservatism. Virginia practices catastrophic conservatism. The City of Charlotte thrives while the City of Richmond stagnates. Asheville flourishes while Roanoke goes nowhere fast.

          This is a tale of two states. One has a competent political system. The other has a corrupt and incompetent political system.

          As an aside, the corollary for Charlotte in not NoVa, it is Washington, DC.

          The funny thing is that Jim Bacon’s theory of thriving, walkable city centers attracting young people and good jobs has been playing out in Austin, Charlotte, DC, Nashville, etc. Why hasn’t this happened at the same pace in Richmond? Catastrophic conservatism.

  5. re: 2020 – that’s about par for the course for the 6-year plan – always has been.

    roads are not fast… they have to line up ALL the funding , do the design, get the right-of-way and often -move the utilities.

    projects under smartscale are actually faster than prior because under prior – roads would get on the 6-yr cycle but funding was not assured… Some projects would sit for more than a decade…. others were never done and eventually removed.

    SmartScale is data driven…. and consistent – for all projects.

    you get points for safety, congestion, time delay, etc.. then all projects ranked then one by one for funding until the pot of money runs out and all projects unfunded come back next time.

    you get MORE points if you add local match money…

    big expensive projects that can’t demonstrate bang for the buck – are booted.

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