- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

The Virginia Supreme Court this morning declared unconstitutional a regional taxing plan designed to raise roughly $325 million annually for transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

The ruling said that the state’s constitution “clearly contemplates that taxes must be imposed only by a majority of the elected representatives of a legislative body, with the votes cast by the elected representatives being duly recorded.”

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a 14-member appointed body, was created to levy and collect the taxes. The authority was made up of representatives from the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, and Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park,counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, and Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.

“Permitting NVTA to impose the regional taxes and fees are invalid because they violate the Constitution,” Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn said in the unanimous opinion.

The body began collecting taxes in January, part of a statewide transportation plan that was expected to collect about $1 billion each year.

The ruling ends a long running feud that pitted a small group of conservatives led by Delegate Robert G. Marshall versus Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and Republican Speaker William J. Howell.

Patrick McSweeney, the lawyer representing Mr. Marhsall and his allies, summed up the judgement by saying, “People who are not elected don’t get to tax you anymore.”

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, and Republican leaders, including Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell supported the plan.

In April, Mr. Howell called it the road real deal as a “landmark transportation reform and funding bill.” Mr. Kaine has called It “the first increase in sustainable revenue for transportation in 21 years.” Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, called it “the most extensive and far-reaching transportation reform and investment legislation in a generation.”

As late as yesterday, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine said the governor was “confident” the Supreme Court would uphold the taxing authority.

Mr. Kaine today said he was “disappointed” with the ruling.

“I remain committed to working with the General Assembly to ensure that the commonwealth provides adequate funding for our transportation needs,” he said.

Mr. Kaine said he planned to work with his legal staff, the state’s attorney general and leaders of the legislature to determine what alternatives they have to provide “adequate transportation funding.”

A similar regional taxing authority was created in the Hampton Roads area. That body has not yet begun collecting taxes, waiting instead until a similar court challenge to its authority can be resolved.

Today’s ruling comes after Mr. Kaine in January asked legislators to repeal the unpopular “abuser fees” on habitually bad Virginia drivers. The fees were expected to generate $65 million annually.

The state Supreme Court ruling also comes roughly a month after federal transit officials told Mr. Kaine and Virginia’s congressional delegation that the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport was on the verge of losing out on $900 million in federal funding.

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