- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Opponents of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority yesterday asked the Virginia Supreme Court to bar the panel from levying taxes and issuing bonds for regional road projects because voters haven’t directly elected its governing board.

They asked the court to overturn an Arlington County judge’s ruling in August that upheld the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s transportation package. The legislation allows the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) to raise $300 million by levying seven regional taxes and fees and issuing bonds to pay for transportation projects for the traffic-choked region.

“The General Assembly is trying to give NVTA powers that itself doesn’t have,” argued Wesley G. Russell, an attorney for the opponents, who include Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William and Loudoun Republican. Mr. Russell argued that taxation power is subject to greater constitutional restrictions than other powers.

The state and the transportation authority asked the Supreme Court to uphold the Arlington ruling, noting the Virginia Constitution gives broad powers to the General Assembly, including the power to create a “special-purpose political subdivision” and grant it taxation authority.

“The General Assembly felt the need to provide additional revenue to address traffic congestion,” said William G. Broaddus, an attorney for the NVTA. “It was within their discretion to impose taxes.”

Mr. Marshall said after the hearing that if the court allows the Arlington ruling to stand, it would establish what he called a bad precedent.

“My family needs money, and I own several guns,” Mr. Marshall said. “Do I point one at your head and ask you to give me money?”

The revenue measures took effect Jan. 1, and include new taxes on home sales, car rentals and repairs, and hotel-room stays. The new fees include a $10 safety-inspection fee and a $10 regional vehicle-registration fee. Each locality represented by the NVTA also can choose to raise additional revenues by assessing impact fees on new developments, imposing additional commercial real-estate taxes or adopting local vehicle-registration fees.

The transportation authority has 14 voting members, including officials from nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions, along with two members appointed by the House, one member appointed by the Senate and two appointed by the governor. There are two nonvoting members.

The Assembly legislation also enabled the creation of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, for road projects in another Virginia region with major gridlock problems. The group wanted to start collecting fees and taxes Jan. 1 but postponed the deadline to April 1 to give state lawmakers an opportunity to make changes.