Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Untying the Gordian knot: A way forward for Virginia transportation funding

I'm thinking that we could create a similar diagram to the one at left, focused on the top 10 or top 40 "knotty" issues in state and local politics, from school funding and social equity to gasoline excise taxes and charging higher rates for parking.

The text below is just a reprint of the section of Monday's blog entry on Amtrak Virginia services launching in Norfolk today. This section wasn't really relevant to the discussion on the railroad service.

Note that yesterday's Examiner has a piece, "Grover Norquist goes after plan to raise Virginia gas tax," which states that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, which really should be called "Americans for no taxes," will aim his energies at the Virginia Legislature, to ward off the consideration of a gasoline tax increase, which is likely to occur if Governor McDonnell will really come up with some money to direct to the transportation problem in Virginia.

Welcome to VirginiaVirginia has its act together, more or less, on railroads but not roads and local transit

What's interesting is how, despite the change in governorship every four years, for the most part, Virginia's Governors have remained committed to railroad passenger service expansion, even if they can't get it together in terms of broader transportation planning, and road matters, as the Post laments in the editorial, "Running on fumes."

A way forward for solving the State of Virginia's "insolvable" transportation funding problem

This is a three-part recommendation.

First, Jeffrey Cajka, responding in a letter to the editor to the Washington Post, "Smoothing out Va.'s road-funding woe," offers the way out. His letter points out that in 1932, the Byrd Road Act gave the state jurisdiction over county roads in all but two jurisdictions.

Returning authority and responsibility for local roads to local jurisdictions changes the parameters of the discussion (not unlike how Obama's trouncing of Mitt Romney and the gain of Democratic seats in the US Senate has forced the US House of Representatives/Republican Party to engage President Obama concerning the fiscal cliff, rather than just be obstreperous and obstructive).

From "Va. lawmakers turn cold shoulder to Fairfax transportation pleas" in the Examiner:

Virginia is unlikely to give Fairfax County any money to bridge the county's $3 billion transportation funding gap, based on the response the County Board of Supervisors received to its pitch for those funds Tuesday. ...

"We cannot afford to take any more money out of the general fund," said Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield. "I mean not one penny."

Some legislators proposed possibly raising the gas tax or increasing sales taxes by 0.5 percent, but Saslaw said he wasn't confident that would pass because there isn't a governor who is "out in front with it and willing to break arms in order to get the job done."

Second, this should be paired with an increase in the gasoline tax statewide, which would be justified by the change and the failure to generate enough revenue for road and transit maintenance and improvement currently.  This would provide funds for local transportation projects, along with state roadway infrastructure (Interstate highways, and maybe a network of state highways). Virginia's state gasoline excise tax is one of the lowest in the US, and hasn't been raised in a few decades.

(It would be tough, but somehow, Virginia could also donate some of the VDOT roadway planning and operations systems to the local jurisdictions, while retaining some of it to carry out its responsibilities for roadways defined as being under state control.)

Third, the change should accompanied by an additional option of a step up local transportation gasoline (and sales) tax that could be enacted regionally (Northern Virginia could potentially pass this; the hullaballoo in the Hampton Roads about tolls makes it less likely there).

I would recommend that approval for local option sales and/or gasoline excise taxes could come only if successfully put to voters--so it might be impossible to win.  Votes should be organized according the geography of regional transportation districts, as implemented by authorities such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, and the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads.

In the other blog post, Charlie wrote:

The local road issue in Virginia is very distorted.

Of course, the reason why local control isn't passed on the county is not VDOT. It is funding. Local control would mean giving counties the ability to levy gas taxes which outside of Northrn Virignia they do not.

Absent that increase, you're in the same pickle.

A modest increase in Virginia gas taxes in neccessary, but to do so statewide or ever regionally will be very tough. More so since NoVA would require a larger and more immediate hike -- perhaps in the order of 25 cents or more within a few years.

(and there is a long history of taking taxing power away from the county and giving it to the commonwealth).

I think the issue becomes, is this the equivalent of Virginia's "fiscal cliff" and will the inability to address the issue in a substantive way without increasing taxes force a decision, a new way forward? (cf. "Gordian knot").

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At 12:43 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I saw something in my reader feed the other the fiscal debate in the next 25 years isn't the size of government. Grover (who loves cities and have a beautiful capital hill townhouse filled with artifacts from apartheid era south africa ,a former client) has won on the size. His argument about inflation, however, is not winning -- and it is very different than a gas tax increase.

You'll remember Warner basically did this -- and got a regional gas tax increase -- but lost on consitutional grounds. And NOVA already pays a special gas tax to boot.

(standard disclaimers on the stupidy of hypothecated taxes apply)

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Grover didn't have to win. Just that "the other side" has been so f*ing inchoate and inarticulate on the value of government. Granted there have been many examples of what I call value destruction too.


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