- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

The typical politician has an easy solution to any problem raise taxes. Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore is one of the very few who regularly eschews this alternative. At the moment, he is taking heat from state and local lawmakers who have revived the awful idea of empowering local governments with taxing authority ostensibly to finance needed new road construction. Anyone who believes the proposed taxes would be "limited" or "temporary" likely also believes in Santa Claus.

The battle is especially acute in Northern Virginia, where rapid development has far outpaced road-building as well as existing road capacity. Area lawmakers want to establish a "multicounty transportation authority" that would have power to raise and spend money for highways and related improvements. A new or increased sales tax is among the levies being discussed but local income taxes are another possibility.

Virginia's Department of Transportation has joined the chorus, urging approval of the new "authority" and attendant taxes to cover the "considerable shortfall in revenues" it projects over the next several years.

Mr. Gilmore, to his great credit, has held fast against the pro-tax juggernaut. "I have been pretty negative towards tax increases, even at the local level," he said describing himself as protecting Virginians against the "wolves" of taxation. "Tax increases are not philosophically the right approach," he adds.

The governor is correct in his assessment. The reason we have gridlock is not low taxation. Rather, it is due to explosive development that has come without attendant improvements in road infrastructure. Arguably, it is the developers and highway users who should finance at least some of that needed infrastructure not citizens who don't even use the road. It is developers, after all, who profit the most from high-density townhouse tracts, shopping malls and new office complexes. Most, if not all of these projects are built without any meaningful provision for the additional traffic they necessarily create.

Aside from trying to tax and build its way out of traffic congestion, the state has resorted to a failed but ongoing experiment in centralized planning known as the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. The idea is to try to ration highway use by how many people one can get in the same car going the same place at the same time. Try to imagine providing other goods and services food, for example by trying to force people to shop in groups of three using carts going down exactly the same aisles, buying exactly the same products and stopping at the same time. Ridiculous, isn't it? The difference is not that more people commute than shop. It's that grocery stores "ration" their products by price. There's a reason the Dulles Toll Road doesn't suffer much from congestion. Developers and lawmakers could learn something from that example.

In any event, saddling taxpayers with new levies to pay for the mess created by command-and-control government planning does not deal with the problem. It only adds to the burden of area residents who face yet another hand in their pocket even as their commute grows longer and ever more frustrating.

Mr. Gilmore is right to draw a line in the sand and insist on other solutions.

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