Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority is expected tomorrow to approve seven taxes and fees that could pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Northern Virginia’s beleaguered transportation system.

The panel of 16 appointed local and state officials representing nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions is considering $300 million in new regional taxes. Each tax and fee must be passed individually by six of the nine jurisdictions representing 66 percent of the region’s population.

“I say let’s get on with it,” said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat and authority board member. “The time for these investments were yesterday, and the next best time is today.”

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, also an authority board member, agreed.

“If we miss this opportunity, it will probably not come our way again for another 25 to 40 years,” said Mr. Euille, a Democrat. “All of us in Northern Virginia have been screaming and crying to have the resources to address our regional transportation needs, and we now have an opportunity to chart our own destiny.”

By most accounts, the only way for the plan to fail is if representatives from Loudoun and Prince William counties, Manassas Park and Manassas vote against the proposal. But the Manassas City Council voted Monday to support the plan. Representatives from Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria also are expected to vote in favor.

Manassas Park Vice Mayor Bryan E. Polk, an authority member, said this week that he was in a political bind.

“Whichever ways it goes, there is fallout,” said Mr. Polk, a Republican. “If we don’t approve this, the bird in the hand got away. And some will say we had control of our own destiny. Of course, if we support it, we will continue to hear from critics of taxation and big government.”

If the proposal is approved tomorrow, the Republican-controlled Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is prepared to challenge the transportation authority’s power to levy local taxes and fees, saying the state constitution bars an unelected body from wielding such powers.

Authority members note, however, that regional taxes must be passed before any legal arguments can be made.

“The hope is if we can garner the six votes to move forward,” Mr. Connolly said. “We can all complain about the imperfections of the legislation, but at the end of the day, this is what we have been dealt.”

The state General Assembly this year passed a multibillion-dollar package that relies on the budget surplus, long-term borrowing, increased fines for bad drivers and regional taxing authorities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

It represents the largest overhaul of the state’s transportation system since 1986 and signals an end to the long-standing feud between the anti-tax and centrist wings of the Republican Party.

The package has come under intense scrutiny, largely because of the fines for habitually bad drivers and surcharges on some traffic offenses. The fines, which apply only to Virginia drivers, have been called “abuser fees.”

“It’s a series of taxes and fees imposed by three blind men painting a picture of the Last Supper,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican. “The more people read this bill, the more people find things in it not to like.”

In response, House Speaker William J. Howell posted a three-page explanation of the fees on his Web site (

“The overwhelming majority of Virginia’s drivers — more than 97 percent — will not have to pay higher fees,” said Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican. “If you do not routinely break Virginia’s most serious traffic laws, you will not be subjected to the abuser fees.”

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