Friday, December 02, 2005

More Clues to Speaker Howell's Thinking

While Gov.-elect Tim Kaine holds a series of highly publicized transportation hearings, and the state Senate holds its own transportation-related START hearings, the House of Delegates leadership has kept a low profile. But House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, gave some clues to his thinking about transportation in the fast-approaching 2006 General Assembly session while addressing the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce yesterday. (See Paul Bradley's coverage in the Times-Dispatch.) The highlights:
  • Howell predicted that the General Assembly could reach consensus on transportation without the necessity of a special section, a possibility that Kaine raised earlier this week.
  • Howell said he agrees with Kaine that road building alone will not solve the state's congestion woes. Wrote Bradley: "The equation must also include mass transit and initiatives such as telecommuting."
  • But the Speaker was skeptical that Kaine could make good on his campaign pledge to connect transportation with land use reform, noting that any such proposal would be strongly opposed by real estate and home-building interests.
  • Howell sees nothing wrong with using General Fund revenues for transportation, putting it on an even footing with education and public safety in the competition for state funds.


At 9:38 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

At a Virginia Chamber of Commerce forum last week LG-elect Bolling was equally emphatic that major progress could be made using the GF surplus. He even went to the numbers in the Senate Finance Committee staff projections: about $1.3 million not committed to a mandatory cost in the current 2-year cycle, and perhaps another $500 million after mandatory and traditional commitments to key programs.

So that's about $1.8 to 2 billion left to the Governor and GA's discretion. With some trimming or an even stronger economy, it could be bigger. An impressive sum, but keep in mind it is over four years, and it projects into the murky future more than 30 months.
I can remember the last time the Dow broke 11,000 -- and it didn't stay there, did it? What goes up will come down, at least temporarily, before it starts nudging 12,000 again.

Another interesting contrast: Bolling was decidedly cool to the idea of granting concessions on existing highways and bridges (something the Speaker likes), adamant against tolling existing highways, but wide open to tolling for new projects.

I remain convinced that the public, once it faces the prospect of tolls on lots of existing interstates, bridges and primary routes, will revisit its gut hostility to the gas tax. Right now Bolling points out that tolls are usually a choice, with other routes available. That won't be the case with the tunnels in Hampton Roads, now will it?

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

That current projected unencumbered balance is $1.3 billion of course. Typo.

But another pull on that money is also didcussed in today's Times Dispatch -- a series of proposed tax provisions for Virginia's struggling manufacturing sector. That proposed $200 million plus has to come out the projected revenue streams one way or another.

Making transportation compete has its downside.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

If the Speaker is correct about the likely difficulties facing Tim Kaine and others who would try to place some restrictions on land use, 2007 might be a good year for challengers to run against incumbent delegates and senators from NoVA. Expectations that some reform occur run high among many NoVA voters.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Why is it tht connecting land use with transportation is widely seen as meaning restricting land use? It seems to me that no one has made a clear statement of what this means, or how it might be implemented, or what it might cost.

If connecting land use with transportation is a code phrase for restricting the activities of real estate interests and builders, UNFAIRLY, then you can expect that it will be opposed by those interests. If, on the other hand you find some way to compensate them for their forced contributions to "the public good", then you can expect those providing the compensation to raise a stink.

If it means as EMR suggests "a strategic stalemate" then that is a solution that won't be acceptable to anyone except those that want no changes, ever.

But suppose that connecting land use with transportation means that we admit that overbuilding Gainesville-Haymarket is a mistake. We then decide to "connect land use with transportation" by tearing down a few strips of houses and building new and adequate road services for the remaining homes. The reamaining homes would see substantial tax increases to pay for the projects, and the vanished homes would have to be compensated and rebuilt elsewhere. This strikes me as highly unlikely, and so you will have a case where nothing is done to alleviate congestion in that area.

After thirty years of very expensive experimentation with Metro, and now VRE, we find that they have done nothing to alleviate congestion. Some would argue that without Metro congestion would be worse, but I submit that is unlikely: it can't get much worse.

It is true that Metro allows more people to travel to the core areas than would be possible otherwise, but that is different from saying that it alleviates congestion. VDOT even admits that the new Dulles line won't relieve congestion. Therefore, the justification for metro, rail, and mass transit has to lie elsewhere: either more economical service or better service.

Good Luck. But Metro does provide a public benefit: moves a lot of people and it enables massive profits to be made off of land adjacent. Metro needs an adequate source of funds and that source should be provided by those it serves instead of federal taxpayers in Dubuque, or state taxpayers in Wise.

Meanwhile the core areas appear to be moving elsewhere, partly because of congestion, partly because of expense. CIA, FBI, parts of FAA, and now BRAC are moving away from the core. (or the core is getting larger, depending on how you spin the numbers).

Right now, comparing jobs to housing, experts claim we are 260,000 home short, in the NOVA area. Projections are that we will be 600,000 homes short in ten to fifteen years. If our current shortage has caused recent home price spikes, what does this imply about the future?

TMT and many others say that Fairfax infrastructure is overtaxed: pun intended. They are opposed to more density (linking more land use to existing transportation).

EMR and others claim we can save a lot of money by making compact and well-used infrastructure, but the costs of living in Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria, let alone the District, suggest that this is not so. Every inner jurisdiction is now considering some form of affordable housing plan. Some of these plans will be available to those making as much as $120,000.

None of these jurisdictions are talking about actually paying for these plans: they are going to let the avaricious developers do it (for the public benefit). This can only result in still higher home costs and more push to move activities Elsewhere.

Of course those that live in Elsewhere think that linking land use to transportation means no more land use. Meanwhile, the value of open space land has doubled and the value of farming has not. Those that want to preserve open space are faced with a proposition that is now nearly twice as expensive as it would have been without their anti-road and anti-construction activites. Those that might otherwise be willing to contribute to the cause are missing the revenues that might otherwise have occurred, and they are now faced with twice the disincentive to participate.

This is overall the worst possible outcome for those that favor conservation. It's a great campaign slogan because everyone thinks it means what they want it to mean. That is what is going to make it impossible to implement. This idea is dead on arrival, and if not, then it will survive a few years and be tossed on the scrap heap of other bad campaign ideas.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: We are back to one of my fundamental principles: There is a disconnection in many, but not all, instances between those who benefit from growth/development and those who are harmed. I'm sure that situation has always existed. It seems to me, however, that both the benefits and harms associated with growth in NoVA have increased so dramatically in recent years, such that the levels of tension and, even animosity, have also increased. We live in a state of war over development.

Let's take Tysons Corner, for example. Those who own land that could be redeveloped stand not to make multi-millions in profits as they might have several years ago, but billions. Only a fool would not be motivated to do whatever it takes to redevelop Tysons.

Those who live nearby Tysons Corner (or almost anywhere else in NoVA) see an already dysfunctional life style, marked by years of double-digit real estate tax increases, abominable traffic, over-crowded schools, etc., ready to disintegrate completely with the addition of mega-development at Tysons Corner. So much for living in the suburbs. They also know that, to the extent that any infrastructure is supplemented, they will pay for it in higher taxes. Only a fool would not try to stop the redevelopment of Tysons in it tracks.

We have a classic "someone will win" and "someone will lose" scenario with very high stakes. I would agree that it is probably easier for those who want added development to win, but they face the real risk that, if they ever lose, they will lose on an enormous scale. If and when the "antis" win, it could well be Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley again.

While I don't have the solution, it seems only reasonable for elected officials to understand this situation, acknowledge it publicly, and begin to talk about it with all sides. Those would be the first steps to moving beyond "win-lose" with high stakes to possibly some actual type of win-win situation.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...


I think you have hit it dead on. The goal is to reach a win-win situation. If the winners can compensate the losers and still come out ahead, then it is a win-win, otherwise it is nothing but well organized and camoflaged theft.

What we have now is a well financed and orchestrated move by those who live in multimillion dollar homes in the country to shove increased density and a reduced ability to travel down your throat, before the threat overcomes their lovely, tax protected estates. They have successfully enlisted the support of many who live in less elegant but still uncrowded locations.

It is no accident that some of our most prominent developers own those multimillion dollar estates. It is no accident that the environmental and conservation movement is quite effectively lining the pockets of major developers.

Everyone claims they prefer density to sprawl, as long as the density is somewhere else. What is happening to Fairfax is a major league catastrophe: and like a flood, it is happening in slow motion.

I own property in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax, and I can see my property value and life style degrading as homes with dozens of immigrants surround me. In spite of that, my assessment and taxes are going up.

I also own property in Northern Fauquier, and I can see my property values and lifestyle being destroyed by dozens of people in new homes who are fleeing the conditions in Fairfax. In spite of that my assessment and taxes are going up.

Every time a new resident arrives, the first thing he does is enlist in the fight aganst (further) growth.

Like EMR my history is growing up in the country, a first home in town, another farther out, and another farther out, still. Unlike EMR, I can't find it in my heart to criticize those who follow.

Like you, I don't have "the answer". Like anyone else, I have some pet peeves. People who put up security lights in the country. Excessive horsepower. Driving out in the street to get from one parking lot to the next. Excessive and interior lighted signage. Stuff that is designed so it can't be fixed.

Given that people continue to happen, I don't see that we can stop growth without a drastic reduction in lifestyle (more crowding). If growth continues, we will still see a drastic reduction in lifestyle(less open spce and environmental amenities). Like a culture in a petri dish, we will achieve a sustainable existence only when we have no other choice.

We are like penguins on an ice flow, those at the core are protected and supported by those on the outside, but they are squished shoulder to shoulder. At least Penguins recognize the value provided, so those on the outside are allowed their turn in the warm center.

The city is supported by people in the outlying areas, and those in the outlying areas depend on the city. We can't continue our present dichotomy because if we don't have a win-win, then we will surely have a lose-lose.

I'm inclined to believe that we can choose between ugliness or not, but I don't know who chooses to decide what is ugly. As angry as I am with VDOT, they at least plant lovely fields of flowers in the median. I'm not sure if we are better off with another Camden Yards where we can sit and swill beer or several thousand corner sandlots where we can actually play the game for the same price.

What I do see is that everyone wants to send someone else the bill for the slightest perceived insult. If we all send each other a bill, then what have we gained other than a new billing and collection industry?

Maybe those Penguins are all actually elbowing each other in the ribs to gain a superior position, but I think it is more subtle than that. I think Penguins are smarter than that, certainly smarter than die-hard republicans or die-hard democrats. Penguins know what it is like to die hard.

If we don't tax ourselves enough, then we will all be besieged by panhandlers. If we tax ourselves too much, we will all become panhandlers.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Assuming (perhaps foolishly) that our elected officials tumble to, and then begin to discuss, the win-lose situation in which development occurs in NoVA, wouldn't a good step be to determine the real costs and benefits of growth and where those costs and benefits accrue?

I am not proposing any contrived study that is initially designed to prove that development causes AIDs or that it will cure AIDs. This work is not for either the Sierra Club or the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Aren't we more likely to develop a truly win-win environment if we really know development's costs and benefits, its winners and losers?

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Oh, TMT: you have sruck a chord dear to my heart. What are the unspun figures, the unencumbered facts, the ideas founded in the dark of night that can endure the harsh glare of the sun?

In the past four years Fauquier officials have denied permits for some 300+ homes valued at $300 -400 thousand dollars. Part of their argument was that homes valued at under $700,000 don't pay their own way. Following the recent re-assessments allof those home would in fact be valued at over $700,000. Where then is their argument, never mind that the $700,000 figure is entirely bogus.

But Fauquier is entirely different fro Fairfax. Much of Fairfax infrastructure is old and paid for: living should be cheap there. But it is also inadequate to support all the new residents, as you point out. It is much more expensive to tear out old infrastructure and build new, and even more expensive still to re-develop complex infrastructure to aupport density. So much for EMR's arguments about the efficiency of dense areas.

You hit a key note on accrual. In Fauquier county, the fabulous home values depend on an abundance of open space - frequently open space that belongs to someone else.

In Fairfax every resident pays a substantial amount to support Metro. But Metro only supports two corridors, so many can't use it and much of the benefit accrues to those that own property along the corridors.

We have enough financial tools to sort all this out, but there is no political will. We should TIO until the will develops. (TIO is Throw Incumbents Out.)

Not only is there no political will, but ideologues on both sides will spin whatever results occur to suit their needs, regardless of the truth, regardless of what makes sense. Sometimes we just need to ask, "What evidence would be sufficient to change your mind?"

Here is an example: Anti-automobilists claim that roads result in tremendous tax loss due to the amount of untaxed space roads take up. This is part of the externalized costs, they claim. Clearly this can't be a 100% loss becasuse some space is needed, even for bicycle trails.

Pro-transit advocates claim that the tremendous operating losses are offset by the enormous property value increases that accrue (to a few). Well, isn't the tax loss also evident in right of way, maintenance facilites, and parking areas associated with Metro? And isn't there an ofsetting increase in property value associated with street frontage? After all, a land locked lot is not worth much - even if you can walk to Metro.

I have deliberately taken a Devil's Advocate position on this Blog precisely because I believe that those that support, operate and publish it have lost sight of the idea that we are looking for a win-win proposition. Because I have deliberately argued both sides of many arguments, some have concluded that my message is that no matter what we do, we are screwed.

They might be partly right.

Sometimes, various parties will conced a point to each other. I submit that we should latch on to those ideas and rephrase them into resolutions that we can all agree with and post them on the Truth Blog.

When someone subsequently makes an argument that violates the Accepted Truth we should all equally pummel him into submission. Naturally, there will be endless variations on a theme, but with sufficient discussion we should be able to resolve them into Sub-Truths.

We can't argue free market only when it suits our argument, and argue full payment of all external costs only when it suits our argument. We must be able to accept the offsetting counter arguments, and we should be willing to set figures on the values. If they subsequently turn out to be wrong, well we can adjust the values and reconsider our position.

What we have here, is endlessly circular arguments, based on partial positions, based on preconcieved ideologies. I have attempted to bring to the discussion some unbiased, refereed figures to the discussion. In doing so I have avoided using figures supplied by people that I consider have a "dog in the Fight".
Despite that, the figures I have cited are frequently dismissed as being "irrelevant". What I have done, is chosen from among the unbiased figures those that do not support ideas that I consider to be outlandish, illogical, or unsupportable.

These figures have not been challenged.

I'm in an unusual position. I own property in Fairfax that has increased in value by a factor of between seven and twelve, depending on how i do the accounting. This gain is of no value to me because I have no way to extricate myself without taking an enormous tax hit. My rental value is limited by market forces. I have adopted the strategy of using the equity value there as a revolving fund to support the maintenance and improvement of my farm property in Fauquier County. I sell farm products and services not only to my farming neighbors, but to city dwellers.

As as result, I clearly understand that the city's footprint is far larger than the city. I understand we cannot have the benefits of the city without the benefits of the countryside. And vice versa.

There are thousands who live in various forms of urban development who say that "We have to save this prime farmland." I don't see them spending their city equity to see that it happens.

There are thousands who live in the countryside who depend heavily on the city, and also oppose any subsidies thereof.

I agree with you. This is not an argument to support or defeat the positions held by PEC or the Sierrra Club. It is not about the Club for Growth, the builders association, or the Chamber of Commerce. This is about finding a win-win equitable solution with the most societal benefit, the least environmental damage, and the maximum of beauty and fellowship.

Im in favor of a free market, but I'm not blind to external costs. I'm in favor of "The Public Good" but I'm not fond of socialism. So if someone wants to argue that roads are overcrowded because they are underpriced, then they should be willing to consider the underpricing of metro fares.

I'm willing to accept the argument that developers should pay the full costs of their projects, if we can figure out what they are. At the same time, I think the Bay area should be willing to pay for every drop of clean water that runs off the farm. If I'm stupid enough to let my cattle foul the water, then I should forgo that payment.

If every city cyclist who rides past the farm dropped a nickle in the tin cup by the road, it would cover my farm losses. But I don't see those that live in town using their equity to support the farm, as I do.

So don't come to me and tell me I should be paying ten or twenty times as much in taxes because I'm an urban use of the land in disguise. Don't build your cabin in the woods and then claim I'm an avaricious developer stealthily speculating on the land in camoflage.

After all, this farm has been subdivided for various reasons, most of them economic, for over two hundred years. I still own a surveying instrument used in George Washingtons time, handed down through the family since the 1700's, and used to make some of the original land divisions. Dozens of my neighbors live on land that was once part of the farm, and they will be uniformly sad to see the time when it is gone. None of them would be here if the current laws were in place a hundred years ago, and only a few of them support the farm with their trade.

If you want to keep the open space, fine. But don't expect to ram the resulting density down TMT's throat without a fight. If you really want to keep the open space, then plan on paying what it costs.


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