You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Transit authority’s tax powers questioned

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority last nightpassed a package of local taxes and fees that could generate $300 million a year for road and rail projects, despite public challenges on whether the board has the legal power to do so.

State Republican lawmakers have led the challenge, saying the 16 members from across the region are mostly elected officials but were appointed to the board, not elected to it.

"There are some clear provisions in the state constitution that the [authority] has to overcome," said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican. "Only governing bodies can levy a tax, and the [authority] is not one."

Mr. Marshall was among about 150 people who came to the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church for the vote, which was preceded by hours of public comments.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William Republican, was the only authority member to vote against all seven taxes or fees.

"It seems like the easy thing to do these days is to raise taxes," he said. "The hard thing to do is to roll up your sleeves like families and small businesses ...and determine what [your] priorities are."

The proposed taxes and fees and expected annual revenue are:

{bullet} Grantor"s tax — 40 cents on each $100 of value when residential property is sold, $171 million

{bullet}Motor-vehicle rental tax — 2 percent of rental rate, $9 million

{bullet}Transient occupancy tax — 2 percent of hotel rate, $25.3 million

{bullet}Vehicle safety inspection fee — $10 annually, $16.2 million annually

{bullet}Sales tax on auto repairs — 5 percent of labor charges, $33.2 million

{bullet}Regional vehicle registration fee — $10 annually, $17 million annually

c Initial vehicle-registration fee — 1 percent of purchase price (one-time), $64.6 million

"The frustration we all feel is we are being put in a position to raise taxes and fees when it should be the job of the General Assembly," said Scott K. York, who voted against five of the seven.

"We feel it's time for Richmond to start giving back part of the revenue we generate for the commonwealth and not continue to put the burden on the backs of the people of Loudoun County and the rest of Northern Virginia," said Mr. York, an independent on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. He voted for the vehicle-rental and hotel-rental taxes.

Mr. York, Mr. Frederick and Bryan E. Polk, Manassas Park vice mayor, were the only members to vote against any of the taxes or fees.

"I think it's a great plan," said state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Fairfax County Republican, who voted in favor of the taxes-and-fees package. "We have entered into a great partnership. For years, I have heard Richmond bash local government and local government bash Richmond."

She said voting yes was a way to bridge that gap.

The authority will begin looking at how to spend the expected $102 million on mass transit and road projects.

However, the Republican-controlled Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is now prepared to challenge the authority's power to levy local taxes and fees, arguing that the state constitution bars an unelected body from wielding such powers.

Some big-ticket items include $28 million for improvements to the Fairfax County Parkway, almost $15 million to widen the Prince William Parkway from four to six lanes between Hoadly Road and Old Bridge Road, and about $11 million for improved bus service between the Braddock Road metro stop and the Crystal City/Potomac Yard corridor.

The series of local revenue enhancements represent a significant chunk of the multi-billion-dollar transportation compromise that the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, approved earlier this year.

That package relies on the budget surplus, long-term borrowing, increased fines for bad drivers, a $10 increase on vehicle-registration fees and regional taxing authorities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Conservative Republicans from the rural regions of the state were reluctant to support anything more than the $10 increase in vehicle-registration fees.

So Northern Virginia lawmakers considered the regional plan the best way to ensure that new money raised in Northern Virginia stayed there.

The authority will go today to a Virginia circuit court, which will begin deciding whether the board has taxing power.