Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kaine on the Counter Attack

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine told Northern Virginians at a "town hall" meeting in Woodbridge yesterday that the extra $1 billion a year he proposes to raise in taxes would, in the words of Washington Post reporter Steven Ginsburg, pay for "a revamped road and rail network, powered by a 90 percent increase in local road funds and a doubling in funding for mass transit."

The Governor repeated the usual litany of problems that all Northern Virginians are familiar with. But by promising them congestion relief without fundamental change to development patterns -- the tweaks to land use he recommends do not constitute "fundamental" change -- he is deceiving them.

First, according to VDOT calculations, pursuing Business As Usual transportation policies will require $108 billion over the next 20 years, or $5.4 billion a year. Kaine's proposals would provide less than 20 percent of that number. Raising taxes while perpetuating Business As Usual will only slow the rate at which conditions get worse! It will not make things better.

Even crueler to Northern Virginians -- I believe I'm right about this, someone please correct me if I'm wrong -- that $1 billion in new tax revenue would be distributed through the same transportation funding formula that already short-changes Northern Virginia. So, NoVa could wind up with closer to 10 percent of its Business-as-Usual needs being met under the Kaine plan. In effect, Northern Virginia will be subsidizing transportation projects in other regions of the state that aren't even a priority for those regions.

Northern Virginians are supposed to be better educated and smarter than us yokels downstate. They're supposed to be the city slickers and we're supposed to be the bumpkins. But who's fleecing whom?


At 12:31 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

We should only providd mass transit in the areas where it is most cost effective. As it stands now that means we should reduce it from 5% of travel to around 1%, unless we have plans to intensively develop areas where the trains will go.

If that is the case, then we shouldn't be spending public funds to subsidize favored landowners any more than we should do the same for roads.

But such massive investments can't occur without government involvement, so government should restrict it's efforts to fundraising in the form of bonds that would be repaid by those that benefit from the investment.

The government should also recognize that this investment will cause harm to many that are not otherwise involved by changing the land market. It may be that the harm (lost land value) they get is offset by the benefits (enough land to have a home) offset each other, but at present we have no way of knowing.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Facts don't count on legislative issues! Clearly, NoVA needs some type(s) of mass transit. Whether that should continue to be heavy rail is debatable.

I sense that Kaine and many others use mass transit to justify more spending and taxes because "mass transit" is an emotional phrase that means an end to gridlock on our roads in the minds of many. People who would never use mass transit seem to support the idea on the belief (foolish hope?) that, by spending more on mass transit, most of the other drivers will get off the road so that "I can have an easy drive to work."

I'm not arguing against mass transit in NoVA. I have regularly used it since I moved to this area in the mid-1980s. Probably very few legislators from NoVA can make the claim that they have been regular transit users.

But we need to look for cost-effective means of transporting people from here to there and back again. Heavy rail may not be cost-effective with the densities we have. More important, I think that we cannot afford the infrastructure and likely decline in lifestyle that would be necessary to create such density. I've discussed Fairfax County's infrastructure issues enough. I'll merely incorporate those discussions by reference.

Turning back to Tim Kaine, I think that, in order to attract the number and type of supporters, he needs to justify tax increases, he has to talk the mass transit game. He's trying to succeed where Warner failed in 2002, by assembling a coalition to support major tax increases for transportation. I think part of his base, the many suburbanites who voted for him, probably are skeptical that Kaine's tax increase would work any better to truly relieve traffic congestion than Warner's proposal, which failed because it wasn't believed credible. (A large number of those same voters probably would prefer a slowdown in building, rather than a tax increase and likely presume that developers would be the big winners from this new tax plan.)

Kaine is not pushing land use reform (translated into slow down building) for whatever reasons. Therefore, I'm guessing he's trying to offer "mass transit" instead and because "mass transit" causes many to hope that all their neighbors will use it.

This guess is probably all wrong, but what the heck!

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

In spite of billions spent on mass transit in the last decade, ridership as a percentage of travel has declined. It is just as big, if not bigger a waste, than roads in the wrong places.

Instead of privatizing roads, which are largely a net benefit, privatize transit and watch it get cost effective, and smaller.

Why would Kaine want to promise fundamental change that won't happen until decades after his watch, if ever? Maybe the first step in fundamental change should be the distribution formula.

WE agree that those who use an amenity should be the ones to pay for it, but that's a little hard when the yokels downstate are eating all your ramps.

(pun intended)

At 3:19 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I've heard the claim many time that NoVa gets shortchanged on transportation funds - that they are a net donor to Virginia.

Can someone educate me on the specifics?

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Larry: Vince Callahan has told me on several occasions that, on an overall basis, when one considers the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction and the Springfield Mixing Bowl project, NoVA has been receiving more than it pays. Some specific formulas are, however, generally regarded as unfair to NoVA.

While I'm on the podium, I think another factor that is generally being ignored by our Governor and legislators is demonstrated by the WWB & SMB projects -- big projects are huge and devour money. Are we spending too much money on some of these big projects that would fund significant improvements in smaller projects? Of course, the biggest project is the extension of Metrorail to Dulles, which will not improve traffic congestion, eat billions of dollars that won't be spent elsewhere and will transfer responsibility for major portions of WMATA's operating deficits to Virginia taxpayers. Of course, this extension would enable Fairfax County to permit mega development projects that would make billions in profits for a few landowners. Therefore, it's on track for approval.


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