Monday, September 19, 2005

Convincing Voters - A 'Mind Set' Problem?

'Congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads makes routine commutes miserable and threatens the economic health of the state's most prosperous regions,' says this article in the Roanoke Times. 'Virginia's transportation infrastructure no longer meets the needs of its citizens and businesses, and the state's next governor will face tremendous pressure to develop a plan to avert a long-term crisis.'

"The irony to me is that people want it, but they don't want to pay for it," said Roanoke Vice Mayor Bev Fitzpatrick, a co-chairman of Virginians for Better Transportation, a coalition of citizens, businesses and trade organizations. "It's a mind-set problem, and I don't think we've adequately explained to them [the public] that it's going to cost them more in the long run if we don't address it," Fitzpatrick said.'

How, though, can you argue that the issue hasn't been 'adequately explained'? Voters have been bombarded with the-sky-is-falling warnings since the run up to the 2002 transportation referenda in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. And then there's the many surveys and polls and articles and editorials in between, and the current hand-wringing about the issue that this article represents.

More of a credibility problem, perhaps.


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public officials would have much more credibilty on this issue if they also stopped granting rezoning requests where inadequate transportation or other public infrastructure is lacking. See the attached AG opinion. "Virginia locality may adopt proffer policy that considers adequate public facilities requirement before applications may be approved for rezoning."

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous SDH4VBT said...

Obviously I agree with Fitzpatrick since I'm working on the VBT campaign. People have been bombarded with mixed messages, and just as often as not they are told:

1) we have enough money, it is just being spent badly by bureaucrats in Richmond.

2) we have enough money, but Northern Virgina (or Richmond or Hampton Roads or Southside) is getting too much and we get too little.

3) it is impossible to make any progress (your constant refrain, BB). Even a brand spanking new road that saved thousands of commuters a massive amount of time and relieved congestion on other urban and rural roads (I mean 288 west of Richmond) is immediately attacked as wasteful and political graft. Heaven forbid its positive attributes get mentioned.

4) We can solve all our problems with walkways and bike paths and a 50-year forced relocation program to change "human settlement patterns."

5) Voters who will fork over another $1 a gallon to Big Oil, foreigners and Texicans (providing benefit only to Virginians who own oil stocks) will not pay 8 more cents in tax to make their own lives a little better.

It's a steady drumbeat, all right.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

It's a tough position to have to argue that voters have been bamboozled by the opposition.

What's do voters need to hear that they're not hearing now? I'm not asking for the inside scoop on VBT's strategy, just what new approach, if any, might be coming.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...


Maybe, but eventually people will realize that they cannot prevent growth or preserve open space for free any more than they can build highways and infrastructure for free.

Proffers and growth restrictions will be followed by higher housing prices and, unless government breaks with all previous tradition, higher taxes.

My county has had a two year long controversy over a new high school. After that is resolved and the school is built it will be follwed by two new elementary schools, and eventually by two more high schools.

When those students graduate, they will start looking for places to live. Those places are going to need adequate facilities.

Therefore, if you want to have a policy that prohibits growth, absent adequate facilities, then you had best tie that policy to a plan for building and paying for those facilities. Absent that plan promoting an adequate facilities requirement is just a sham.

As it stands now, such a policy is a blatant attempt to stop growth and/or change. Such a policy is doomed to fail because we know that growth will occur.

The only question is where. At present the answer is anywhere, except NIMBY.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Evidently, people dislike congestion but they dislike paying taxes even more. Americans have demonstrated an amazing ability to adapt to commutes that once would have been considered intolerable. They buy cars with more creeature comforts. They listen to talk radio, their favorite CDs or Books on Tape. They use the time to chill out, enjoying quiet time they can't find at home.

Increasing the gas tax, or installing tolls where none existed before, extracts cash from the motorist's pocket. With incomes stretched already, it may be more difficult for people to adapt to the loss of disposable income than to an incremental increase in the length of their commute.

Thus, we see the phenomenon that voters are all in favor of transportation improvements -- as long as someone else pays for them!

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Jim: Don't tax you don't tax me, tax the guy behind the tree.

I don't know what citizens want. I can't find any kind of poll that wasn't funded by someone with an ax to grind. Apparently it is true that transportation is not first on the list. Many citizens want much more out of their schools, much of it in extra-curricular activities.

Maybe that is so their children will be supervised after school while they are stuck in traffic.

As you noted, health care and the economy are high on the list, because without them, nothing else much matters.

That leaves transportation a dismal number four on the list, or worse dependng on whose list. Why, one might ask, has it drawn so much media attention in the governors race? One answer might be that it is the only one out of the four that the governor is likely to have some control over.

Then of course there is the question of how much voters would be willing to pay, and this is even harder to ascertain: maybe Kaine is right about throwing a referendum first. Right now we don't know the answer to Jim's question. Or, as I have suggested put out a partially binding funds distribution form as part of your tax bill, that way anyone who pays can tell how he would like his money spent. If you are willing to pay more, you can assign a distribution that adds up to 110%. Otherwise, there is simply no data out there.

Not finding any data to support an argument one way or another I had to look at other states. Texas has community surveys as an integral part of their highway plan, which include asking the question, "How would you like to pay for this wish list?"

With regard to after-school expenditures one Virginia survey reported that parents would be willing to pay an extra $100 in taxes to get more activities for their children. If that is four times as important as roads to them, then they might not object to a tax increase that amounted to another $25. That comes to a tax increase of around $60 million. So it is hard to make an argument that people are unwilling to pay for what they get, much as the anti tax ideology says otherwise.

I suppose you can't very well ask how much people would be willing to pay for a better economy, but in the texas surveys people were asked how they would preer to pay for new highways, and the overwhelming choice was through tolls. They were less enthusiastic about demand pricing or tolls that vary according to demand. Additional gas taxes were way low on the list.

Surveying the list it was pretty clear that the over-all goal was to tax the guy behind the tree, but that is not the same as saying they don't want taxes.

California is often a harbinger of what the east will look like in a few years. Californians have recently approved enormous bond issues to pay for needed improvements, so maybe Virginia has a bunch of debt in its future, too.

That way you can have your roads and tax the guy behind the tree, who in this case, might be your grandson.

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