Statement of Principles:
- In line with longstanding tradition based on good government and sound economics, transportation infrastructure should be paid for through user fees rather than general taxation.
- Those user fees should be structured to fall on those who will most benefit from the projects
- Individual projects should stand on their own merit, and not be grouped in all-or-nothing plans.
- Regional taxing districts should only be formed by the consent of those affected through referendum.
- User fees should not be diverted to other purposes not directly linked to their collection. They should be held in trust protected by the State Constitution.
The tradition in the Commonwealth of Virginia, based in justice and sound economics, was for roads to be paid for by user fees rather than general taxes on income or property. When general taxes are used for this infrastructure, economic distortion occurs by artificially subsidizing the economic choice to use those roads instead of other modes of transportation. User fees can come in a number of forms.
Roads, bridges and tunnels of general use to the public, and maintenance of that infrastructure, are most easily financed by fuel taxes, which automatically placed the heaviest burden on those who use the roads most.
But this is not a sound way to finance roads and infrastructure that is of primary use to some limited segment of the public. Projects like this should be paid for by those who benefit most from them, and the best way to do that is through bonds retired by tolls collected at the entrance to the connector, just as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was financed 50 years ago. With modern technology, tolls can be collected with no impact on traffic flow, however, this electronic tolling information should not be used for any other purpose and all collected data should be destroyed when the account has been resolved.
Similarly, roads being built for the purpose of development do not benefit the general public and should be self financed, either through tolls, impact fees or a Tax Incremental Finance District in the developed area, or a mixture of those methods.
For political considerations, several projects from each of these categories have been joined into a single, all or nothing, plan, largely financed by general taxation. Instead of considering the multiple projects lumped into the HRTA plan as one obligation financed by a mixture of taxes and tolls, each project should be considered and financed individually in accordance with those principles, and if they cannot be justified under those financing rules, that should be regarded as the marketplace ruling that they are economically unsound and should not be built at all.
Powers given to government are granted by the consent of the governed. We have consented to be uniformly governed and taxed under the US and Virginia constitutions and the charters of our localities. If any regional authority or taxing district is contemplated as part of a transportation plan, consent of those in the district should be obtained by referendum, as such a special tax district is not uniform across the State and thus not empowered by our consent.
Finally, funds collected under user fees should be used only for the purposes and projects intended. We should end plunder of fuel tax funds for other uses, like the Port of Virginia subsidy (4.3%) and Mass Transit (14.7%) which do not serve those who pay them.
A return to the just and economically sound practices for funding transportation prior to the creation of MPO’s and Regional Planning District Commissions would provide for our transportation needs efficiently and in a more timely manner, as self-financed projects will not have to wait in line for public funds and economically unsound projects will not be built at all, thus sparing the public those costs.