The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

My Photo
Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Transportation proposal uses regional taxes; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

A half-dozen Republican legislators, including one local delegate, are trying to sell their colleagues on a set of tax increases for transportation improvements in Northern Virginia.

It’s going to be a tough sell, but Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, is undeterred.

“We expect opposition,” said May, who represents all of Clarke County and the western section of Loudoun County.

But “Northern Virginia is in such desperate straits that we’ve got to do something separate to make something livable out of it,” he said.

The solution? Regional taxes for regional fixes.

May was one of 17 delegates who split with the GOP House in 2004 and supported a $1.5 billion slate of tax increases put forward by Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner and backed by Republicans in the Senate.

But May and his brethren balked this year when Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the Senate came knocking with a budget that included at times more than $1 billion per year in new taxes for transportation.

“We’re trying to assist Northern Virginia out of a very, very deep hole that’s been dug in terms of transportation,” May said.

Some other local legislators have said the full GOP caucus would likely oppose higher taxes, but have hinted that there may be some flexibility when it comes to regional authorities.

“You remember … [the] song ‘Makin’ the Best of a Bad Situation?’ That may well be our theme song,” May joked.

Congestion is simply too bad in the region to ignore.

“It’s not bad, it’s critical,” he said. Fixing the problem will take anywhere from $400 million to $600 million per year over 10 years in new spending.

The plan calls for an increase in taxes charged on lodging and rental cars to collect from tourists, and new levies on cars and houses to collect from drivers and developers.

It also calls for impact fees to be charged for new homes, regardless of whether they require a rezoning, as well as a $3 per $100 of assessed value commercial and industrial buildings fee.

All together, the new levies would raise about $451 million per year, but would only come as far west as Loudoun County.

The GOP proposal looks something like a plan put forward by the Senate earlier this year — money from local taxes will be spent by a regional authority, rather than the Virginia Department of Transportation.

That plan and others are still pending before the House Finance Committee. Delegates have said they’ll return sometime around September to start an intensive session on road and rail issues.

That’s welcome news to the Virginia Senate, said Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, in an interview last week.

All four of the pending plans, including one authored by Potts, let three or more cities and counties throw in together to form regional taxing authorities for regional projects, but wouldn’t take effect without some kind of statewide legislation.

Senators want to see what kind of solutions the House of Delegates comes up with, after having thrown their own bevy of plans out over the first half of 2006.

Any real solution, though, will have to contain new revenues in the form of some tax hikes, Potts said. It’ll also have to have a statewide component.

May didn’t disagree with Potts.

“It’s not that we don’t need additional funding for transportation statewide,” he said. “It’s just that particularly in Northern Virginia, and to a lesser extent in Hampton Roads, it’s reached a critical stage.”

Getting all the money Northern Virginia needs through a statewide plan would be inefficient, May said. As of now, the region sends about $350 million per year to the state’s transportation budget, but it only gets $150 million back.

Legislators will be back in Richmond today to give final passage to the state’s two-year spending plan.