Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chichester's view: at least $1 billion a year

Sen. John Chichester's position is clear - the state needs new revenue to fund at least $1 billion a year in transportation spending, and that money won't come from the general fund. The Fredericksburg paper covered his comments to the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce about the transportation funding issue:

'"Transportation needs its own sources of reliable and sustainable revenue, and it's time for action," Chichester said, adding that he envisions such revenue actions to put "a fair proportion" of cost to those who use the system.

He did not address specific ways to get more money into transportation, although he later said any combination of gas taxes, sales taxes, tolls or other taxes on vehicle-related items would be options.

"All of these user fees are all there. And no one wants to pay any of them," he said. "We need to be upfront about that and stop looking for a curtain to hide behind."

Chichester and Sen. Edd Houck, who was in the audience, don't expect the next governor to play a leading role in proposing major funding strategies. Both also said the private sector needs to step up the pressure on General Assembly members, because that's where any new spending initiatives will have to come from.


At 12:54 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

How about a horsepower tax? It would cut down on waste, result in cars that make some semblance of sense, and it would tax heavy trucks at a higher rate than autos.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

If the citizens of Virginia are again to pay even higher taxes, they should receive a "Service Level Agreement" from the state and its spenders and taxers. This SLA should specify exactly how much improvement taxpayers will see and for which specific roads, rail systems, etc. over a five-year period. For example, Level of Service for 1-95 between point A and point B will move from F to C. No more "trust us." The failed sales tax referenda demonstrate that trust does not exist.

To make it more interesting (and, as I'll explain below, actually work), the tax increases should be refundable in the form of personal income tax credits if the SLA is not met.

No business would purchase Internet or other communications services without receiving an SLA from the service provider. The SLA specifically sets forth the network performance standards and the penalties for the service provider's failure to meet those standards. Generally, in most service contracts, the purchaser also gets to walk away from the deal in the event that the SLA failures are more than minor.

Why should the taxpayers of Virginia get any less? We deserve a written guarantee that any higher taxes will actually make specific and measurable improvements in transportation, not just vague promises to fix the problems. If the performance is not there, taxpayers get their money back.

More important, making a money-back guarantee would have the practical effect of ensuring that we really see the promised improvements.

The Commonwealth and every local jurisdiction could not easily refund multiple billions of dollars to taxpayers because of transportation SLA failures. Therefore, every single government official will bust his or her butt to ensure that no refunds are made because the SLA was not met. They will make decisions that will ensure that the promised transportation improvements are met, even when those decisions also "gore" other special interests.

For example, a decision to build the Techway and associated bridge across the Potomac would depend only on whether it actually brought promised traffic relief to the American Legion Bridge and other roads in the area. If other means, including using state funds to promote teleworking or for Bus Rapid Transit systems, would produce better results, the Techway would remain a fantasy in the minds of some landowners. The Commonwealth and Fairfax County, for example, simply could not afford to make the wrong decision and see tax revenues and appropriations plummet. In short, specific roads would be built only if they actually provided the promised traffic relief.

Similarly, if granting rezoning requests would add too much additional traffic volume to local roads, such that the SLA would not be met, even the Fairfax County BoS would deny the request, rather than see the tax refund triggered and face reduced state aid for K-12 education.

Another side benefit would be to remove lobbyists and campaign contributions from the transportation and land use debates. Decisions would be made solely on the basis of the actual impact on transportation.

But then, this is Virginia. Don't expect any elected official to take actions that would actually fix transportation because they put lobbyists and campaign contributions first. The goal of many supporters of increased transportation taxes is not improved transportation. Just as with the expansion of Metrorail, it's all about enabling more development and enriching favored contractors.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

TooManyTaxes: You hit the nail on the head when you talked about a Service Level agreement. I'm convinced that one reason the previous highway referendums failed was that they included no plan and no accountability.

Unfortunately, we will probably never see any real improvement in transportation unless it is coupled with a collapse of the economy. Another Potomac crossing will not provide relief to the American Legion bridge any more than Vienna Metro provided relief to route 66. We simply do not know enough about the collective effects of transit systems, the economy, and other social drivers to predict the results: especially long term.

New roads, new transit systems, and new telecommuting options will open up new opportunities that people will take advantage of opportunistically, provided there is enough business to give them a reason to do so.

The question, really, is whether a new road or other system is used to its potential. What we see now is that a new road is built, and used; then critics point to the (well used) road and claim it is a failure because it did not relieve congestion. Therefore, the argument goes, we should stop building roads.

In an even more fantastic extension of this completely backward argument, people then argue that absent roads adequate to provide uncongested service we should prevent development. In fact, the last thing you want is uncongested roads, because it is they that represent a waste of money, or alternatively, inadequate development.

It strikes me as circular logic to first argue that we should only build roads that improve conditions in certain areas, or to claim that people should not be allowed to develop in the face of insufficient roads, and then turn around and complain that roads only benefit certain egregious developers as a result of their location.

We are going to have 2 million more people and 750,000 new jobs. Without roads and development, where will we put them? How will we move the goods and materials they need?

It is unfortunate that some people make "better" locational choices, and some people make more profitable locational choices. The fact remains that location has value, whether it is for conservation or for development, so we need to decide what we want and where.

We can let anyone build whatever and wherever it makes sense for them to do so. We can buy and conserve land we don't want developed: even Fairfax, for example is nearly 10% parkland, bought and paid for by the public. That is only part of the open space available there, but much of the rest is at risk of further development, and the resulting increased congestion. We can either buy the land, or buy the roads.

When the road situation gets out of hand, we can then proceed with business as usual, and just react as best we can to unplug bottlenecks. USDOT claims that only 65 bottlenecks are responsible for a large percentage of our wasted travel time.

But you cannnot very well espouse planning everything in one breath, and then complain that it results in favoritism in the next.

Don't expect any elected official to actually fix transportation, not because they are accepting bribes, but because it is fundamentally not fixable, or not fixable at any reasonable price.

Your choices boil down to toomanytaxes, excessivecongestion, or notenoughbusiness. Any way you cut it, it is going to cost money. The best we can hope for is to spread the costs (and benefits) fairly. Instead, we continue to play the charade of don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the man behind the tree.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

Ray: Is there enough of correlation between horsepower and fuel economy to argue that the motor fuel tax already accomplishes that?

Toomanytaxes: Helluvanidea on service level agreement, certainly when applied to public-private or purely private projects, and need some kind of application to the transitional state owned, state built. For the sake of argument, such a deal on 288 here in Chesterfield would clearly be met -- it has relieved congestion on other routes, cut commuter time and cost, spurred job creation. But the measurable benefits on the Pocahontas Parkway across the James River remain in the future.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

SDH4vbt. Good point. I think the correlation is not high enough. When you see the ad for Cadillacs with 400+HP with the girl timing a guy on the track, you have to wonder where our sensibilites went.

Can there possibly be any need for a 300 HP passenger car? Some of these things have twice the HP of my one ton dump truck.

I like the service level agreement idea too, especially if it is connected with an adequate public facilites rule for development. Problem is, I don't think it is workable. Nice idea though.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

sdh4vbt I'm sure that some projects would meet their SLAs. But there are lots that would not, such as the extension of Metrorail to Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

Perhaps, I spoke too soon. The Commonwealth already admits that spending at least $1.6 billion on heavy rail will not make any noticeable difference in LOS for most major roads in the area. The Dulles Metro's SLA would promise nothing and deliver nothing.

Keep in mind that the Commonwealth is also agreeing to pay for all cost overruns. People who care about real transportation might want to ask Delegate Ken Plum, one of Metrorail expansion's biggest boosters, why he thinks spending $1.6 (plus) to keep LOS at F on many roads is a good use of public money.


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