N. Va. transportation board votes to increase taxes

Some say tax increases necessary to make up for neglect of state government

News Washington Post July 13, 2007
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The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) last night approved $300 million per year in new expenditures, funded by regional tax increases, resulting in the largest increase in transportation spending in a generation, the Washington Post reported.

Even those who voted in favor of the increases were unenthusiastic, saying they were raising local taxes to make up for the inadequacies of state government, according to the newspaper.

"The pain of acting is immediate; the pain of failing to act is in the future," said Chris Zimmerman, chairman of the authority and a Arlington County Board member, the Post reported.

"Today's problems, bad as they are, are nothing compared to the future," Zimmerman said. "Congestion, pollution, degradation of quality of life would be worse if we failed to act now."

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine commended the approval of the regional tax increases. The vote "reflects the bipartisan consensus of this region's leadership to address this longstanding set of transportation challenges," Kaine said in a statement.

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, also applauded the vote, according to the Post.

"Politics is the art of the possible, and at the end of the day, we have to make tough choices," Connolly said. "I choose to act."

The plan included seven votes on revenue measures. Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William) opposed all seven measures, while Loudoun County's representative, Scott K. York, voted no on five, approving increases in rental car and hotel taxes, the newspaper reported.

Earlier last night, the cafeteria at a Falls Church middle school was filled with several hundred politicians, activists and taxpayers. Some wore stickers proclaiming "No tax hike," while other stickers read "After 20 years, it's time," according to the newspaper.

Some speakers complained that the state legislature had neglected its responsibility to pay for transportation costs, the Post reported.

According to Dennis Daugherty of Prince William County, the law establishing the NVTA was the state legislature's way of saying " 'You suckers, pay more taxes!' And we are saying 'Thank you for the opportunity.' "

But according to Dennis Dineen of Arlington, the regional taxes are an investment necessary for the region's future.

"Who wants to move to a place where you can't get anywhere within two hours?" Dineen said.

The regional tax hikes include a "congestion relief fee" that will raise the grantor's tax on the sale of a home by 40 cents per $100 of value, a 1% tax increase on the value of new vehicles, a $10 per year increase in local registration fees, a $10 safety inspection fee and a 5% sales tax on auto repairs. Area car-rental fees and hotel taxes will increase by two percentage points.

The fees and taxes are expected to raise more than $300 million a year, 40% of which will be distributed to the region's nine jurisdictions to spend on projects of their choice, according to the newspaper. The remaining money will be spent on regional priorities, with the first $75 million set aside for Metro and Virginia Railway Express.

The NVTA has 14 voting members, comprised of the top elected official, or a designee, from each of the nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions, two members of the House of Delegates, one state senator and two members appointed by the governor. The authority also has two nonvoting members.

The setup of the authority is unique in a state in which directly elected state and local officials make most decisions, particularly those involving taxes, according to the newspaper. Although most authority members are elected officials, they are not elected to this board and therefore are not directly accountable to anyone outside their jurisdictions.

According to NVTA rules, any tax increase is required to be approved by six of nine jurisdictions, representing at least two-thirds of the region's population, the newspaper reported.

The NVTA's taxing authority resulted from a compromise between the Republican-led General Assembly and Kaine, who signed the state's first transportation funding bill in 21 years.

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