Monday, February 20, 2006

Defining the Issue

Defining the issue is the first step in winning the debate. And that's what the pro-tax camp has successfully done, with the happy complicity of the MSM. Del. Vincent Callahan, R-McLean, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, understands what's going on. Here's how Michael Hardy and Jeff Schapiro quote him today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Unlike the Senate and the governor who have defined the transportation crisis in terms of raising taxes, the House plan specifically addresses choke points and other measures that voters can identify with.
Unfortunately for Callahan, the media also has defined the transportation "crisis" as a problem of insufficient spending and taxes, which means that the very idea of prioritizing transportation spending by addressing choke points will not get any more of a hearing than a throw-away quote buried deep in a story.

Stacking the odds against Callahan and his colleagues even more, in this particular article Hardy and Schapiro label Senate Republicans as "moderates" -- not "liberals" -- for wanting to raise taxes and pour more money into Virginia's failed transportation system. "Moderate," of course, is meant as a synonym for the political middle, or mainstream. The House by contrast is a "redoubt of conservative Republicanism," implying that they're out of the mainstream, for wanting to set spending priorities, reform VDOT, align transportation and land use planning, and not raise taxes in the face of a $1 billion surplus in the General Fund.

The failures of the media coverage of the 2006 transportation debate are scandalous.

The media refuse to examine the critical importance of land use in the transportation debate in any detail, even though Gov. Timothy M. Kaine made it a signature issue in the 2005 gubernatorial campaign, and though the House and Senate are moving closer to agreement on the issue.

The media continue to ignore the manner in which VDOT prioritizes and spends money on transportation, as if the undeniable accomplishments of former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet were the final word on VDOT reform. Changing the way VDOT does business is a major thrust of the House legislative package, yet the House critique has gone largely unreported.

The media continue to ignore alternative strategies for reducing and/or coping with traffic congestion. Telework, traffic-demand management, traffic light synchronization, roundabouts, ramp metering, blah, blah, woof, woof, RTR readers know the drill.

When confronting President Bush over WMD, or making an issue over Vice President Cheney's hunting accident, the MSM claims it has the responsibility to "ask the tough questions" and "speak truth to power." But here in Virginia, the same editorial pundits who support speaking truth to power to George Bush only parrot the opinions of the local political elite. Reporters conduct he said/she said reporting within the parameters of the transportation-crisis-as-spending-shortfall storyline, and the editorial writers attack those in the House who would challenge the status quo.

I don't entirely blame the Capitol press corps, which is tasked with covering dozens of issues emanating from the General Assembly. General political reporters can't become experts on every issue. But I do blame the editors and publishers of the daily newspapers who fail to mobilize the journalistic assets to properly cover the most important public policy debate in Virginia this year -- an issue that affects virtually every Virginian. The coverage has been so breath-taking superficial that the journalism profession in Virginia needs to understake some serious self-examination.

8 Comments:

At 11:45 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

If you want to see the future of state run land use controls, look West young man.

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld Measure 37 which works to ensure that land use rules cannot be passed retroactively, thereby protecting a buyers rights to the rules in place when the property was acquired.

This law or a similar one was passed by an overwhelming majorityof the populace - twice. Both times it was fought with a well financed campaign by environmental organizations and brought to the supreme court.

The first time, the supreme court said the initiative covered too much ground, and covered too many issues.

The second time, special interests found a judge that would overturn the rule on what I think are bizarre grounds, which were promptly over ruled by the Supreme Court.

Washington state and several others are already following suit. The reason that state regulations failed was that they became increasingly and incrementally onerous over time. Special interests could not let good land use rules alone. They had to pursue a winner take all strategy and lost.

If the Virginia winery bill passes, they will have taken a similar loss here for similar reasons. Frankly, I think the Virginia winery bill is a good one, despite the obvious political chicanery. It is a good response to previous political chicanery. Do I think they have the right to disturb their neighbors with loud music? No.

But look what was happening. Naked Mountain Vineyard is named after the mountain on whichit is operated. The mountain was named long ago (anyone want to guess why?) The vineyard had advertizing that plyed on the name "Get Naked!) etc.

People seriously went to public hearings and claimed that the vineyard was hosting wild parties, and worse. Give me a break.

Vineyards are hard work and one successfulway of keeping the land open, if not pristine, or horsey. Let the guy make a living, provided he is not loud.

Back to my original thought. Are we going to go down the path Oregon followed only to find that the residents wouldn't stand for it? Think of the money that environmental groups wasted fighting this battle. Money that could have been spent doing something worthwhile, fair, and conciliatory.

Hear that, Ed?

 
At 3:45 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Received an interesting political flyer in the mail yesterday.

The front title:

"What would new transportation tax hikes cost Virginia Families?"

"$1.1 Billion Every Year!"

"Say NO to tax hikes because we diserve better"

On the back, a website:

"www.workingvirginians.com"

and an invitation to a Rally on
Feb 11 in Richmond" entitled

"No Transportation Tax Hikes Capital Day"

It has a detachable Post Card addressed specifically to my House of Delegates Rep.

This is a very expensive mailing - 4 colors, 4 pages and targetted to each GA House district.

finally.. it says:

"Paid for and Authorized by the kNOw Campaign"

(note the clever NO part of kNOw)

a cursory GOOGLE search does not turn up whether these folks are affiliated with a PAC or a 501c(4) group but methinks the old adage of following the money probably is a good place to start.

Now we sorta know who sponsored the Ad. My curiosity is who would pay the big bucks to mail it?

 
At 3:46 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

oops.. the Rally was Feb 22 not 11.

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: I read about the Oregon court decision. The law requiring compensation makes sense if it were also coupled with a requirement for the landowner to pay the full cost of additional infrastructure needs.

In order to avoid stupid laws that prohibit any development, we need to adjust the framework for development, as you suggest in your closing comments. It's too bad that the clowns in Virginia government cannot work towards the same end. Perhaps, we should suggest abolishing the General Assembly's authority over land use and transportation matters, turning them over to bloggers! Either us or a randomly selected group of third graders. Neither group could do worse!

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I agree with Toomanytaxes comment about land-use and infrastructure.

If we had a simple law that required new development to pay it's fair share of the infrastructure required to serve new development then the land-use issues would subside.

Localities experiencing high growth in Va feel like their only recourse to development outpacing infrastructure needs is to clamp down on land-development or suffer overcrowded schools and highways.

As stated before, folks ALWAYS have the RIGHT to choose where they want to work and live but there ARE financial consequences to those choices.

I feel that it is patently unfair to require landowners (and I'm purposely including ALL landowners - not just owners of vacant land - but explicitly including folks who pay real estate taxes on their property) to pay for infrastructure required by new residents OR suffer degradation of the existing infrastructure.

The price of a new home includes not only the carpet, appliances, etc but it also includes the infrastructure required and what this is all about is plain old cost-avoidance strategies laced with "affordable housing" red-herrings.

Methinks it would be crystal clear if folks wanted to buy "shell" homes and advocated that existing residents pay for their carpet and appliances so as the home buyer could better "afford" the house.

So I think that efforts to frame the issue as the "unfairness" of land-use controls is really diverting the discussion from the real issues which simply are - who should pay for infrastructure.

Keep in mind that we ALL pay for the operational costs and perhaps a fair allocation of infrastructure costs might be some small percentage to existing residents - but certainly no more than what they would pay on average every year to upgrade and expand infrastructure for rates of growth that are in line with State averages.

I don't side with any who would frame the issue as "preserving" rural areas or stopping sprawl because unless someone is willing to buy these areas from those that own them - fair and square - then what's being advocated is really taking what belongs to others for obstenibly "good social causes".

But before someone pats me on the back - I'd point out that this is also EXACTLY the same issue with respect to some folks expecting others to pay for instrastructure that really is their own responsibility.

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I don't know how we decide how much a developer should pay. School seats are pretty clear, I think. Tap fees cover additional water treatment, and if you need a line extended WSA is goig to bill accordingly. Eventually you need additional police and fire substations, which could be allocated among a number of new residents. But what about roads? How far away from home is a new reident going to be expected to pay? Are there not other issues at play besides just the number of new homes?

If you can figure out the charges, what about credits? Does the community benefit in other ways? Is there a benefit to all from increased amenities? If the community grows you can afford a pool or ice rink that otherwise couldn't happen. And there are new business opportunities.

Clearly what we are doing now is insufficient, but it seems to me that this is anarea that needs a lot more thought. There are too many ways to create nefarious regulations designed to create additional capital gains for existing residents.

I THINK the way this works now is more or lesslike this:Take the current budget and divide it by the number of homes. What you find is that the average home should be paying much more. Those opposed to new development then claim that any home valued less than eight hundred thousand doesn't pay its own way. Obviously there is something wrong with this because the averge home costs no where near that, but the bills are still paid. Hold that thought.

Next, make an estimate of what new infrastructure is going to be needed and divide the cost of that by the number of expected new homes. Here we see two problems. It would be very easy to inflate the cost of new infrastructure and cause high proffers to pevent new building. It would be possible to charge for the infrastructure and then delay building it. And remeber all the existing homes have not been paying their way for years. How much of the new infrstructure is really deferred infrastructure? And what about farms that have historically been taxed at 300 percent of their cost of services? Do they get some credit for past performance? Nope, they get an additional five year tax bill for coming off of land use.

I agree development should pay, but have no idea how to determine the price equitably.

 
At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I don't know how we decide how much a developer should pay. School seats are pretty clear, I think. Tap fees cover additional water treatment, and if you need a line extended WSA is goig to bill accordingly. Eventually you need additional police and fire substations, which could be allocated among a number of new residents. But what about roads? How far away from home is a new reident going to be expected to pay? Are there not other issues at play besides just the number of new homes?

If you can figure out the charges, what about credits? Does the community benefit in other ways? Is there a benefit to all from increased amenities? If the community grows you can afford a pool or ice rink that otherwise couldn't happen. And there are new business opportunities.

Clearly what we are doing now is insufficient, but it seems to me that this is anarea that needs a lot more thought. There are too many ways to create nefarious regulations designed to create additional capital gains for existing residents.

I THINK the way this works now is more or lesslike this:Take the current budget and divide it by the number of homes. What you find is that the average home should be paying much more. Those opposed to new development then claim that any home valued less than eight hundred thousand doesn't pay its own way. Obviously there is something wrong with this because the averge home costs no where near that, but the bills are still paid. Hold that thought.

Next, make an estimate of what new infrastructure is going to be needed and divide the cost of that by the number of expected new homes. Here we see two problems. It would be very easy to inflate the cost of new infrastructure and cause high proffers to pevent new building. It would be possible to charge for the infrastructure and then delay building it. And remeber all the existing homes have not been paying their way for years. How much of the new infrstructure is really deferred infrastructure? And what about farms that have historically been taxed at 300 percent of their cost of services? Do they get some credit for past performance? Nope, they get an additional five year tax bill for coming off of land use.

I agree development should pay, but have no idea how to determine the price equitably.

 
At 11:37 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

The central virginia real estate blog has an entry on the Portland case, with excellent links.

 

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