Guest Commentary: Same Old Story With Richmond & Transit Funding

February 1, 2018 11:04 AM0 comments

When Governor McAuliffe included statewide funding for Metro in his last budget, the hope was that a fairer approach to funding Metro might actually emerge. That proposal at least began to reflect the $600 million the state gets each year from tax revenues generated as a result of Metro and VRE. Metro and VRE financial benefits to the state are equivalent to the state’s annual general fund expenditures on state colleges and universities of around $316 million, and state police, about $266 million.

That was until the legislature began its inimitable work. True to form, so far we see more of the same anti-Metro and anti-transit sentiment: deny that Metro needs more money and blame all of Metro’s ills on management; have Richmond take over the Virginia representation on the Metro Board; deny state tax revenues and force the inner jurisdictions (including Falls Church) to foot virtually all of the bill; but always make sure that the state still gets its $600 million in benefits which subsidize the teachers and police officers around the rest of the state. Then to further the insult on workers all over the state, deny needed funding for all other transit systems, never mind that transit supports businesses and jobs and is strongly desired by future generations.

The latest version of the legislature’s Metro funding rip-off of Northern Virginia looks like this. The grantors tax for Metro jurisdictions (including Falls Church) would be increased. The Transient Occupancy Tax for Metro jurisdictions would be increased. The gas tax on Metro jurisdictions would be increased. Money supporting local projects such traffic calming and bike/pedestrian projects for Metro jurisdictions would be cut and reallocated to Metro.

Meanwhile there would be no new tax revenues paid by the rest of the state. And ironically, Prince William County not only contributes nothing but actually gets a tax cut for its businesses, adding to the subsidies it gets as a result of various state mandated funding formulas such as the education Local Composite Index. And of course, this unfair funding will be attached to measures whereby Richmond seizes control of Virginia’s Metro Board representation. Meanwhile, needed state support for other local transit systems would not be provided. This means that small communities will eventually see their systems shrink or go away.

Turning from Metro to I-66 tolls. Tolling has become widespread, if not popular, because the legislature has refused to adequately fund transportation infrastructure upfront, led by Prince William and Loudoun County anti-government and anti-tax legislators. So, the only alternative to provide more highway capacity, like the old cell phone contracts, is for the private sector to provide the infrastructure “for free” and then charge users a ridiculously high cost when they use it. So, in my view, our anti-tax friends in Loudoun and Prince William Counties have no legitimate right to complain, especially in the context of their continual regional and legislative attack on us in Richmond.

Here is a better, fairer and more truly collaborative approach. With regard to Metro and VRE funding, apply new statewide revenues, that return at least half of the benefits realized by the state, then increase the regional gas tax to a reasonable floor. Reform Metro management as necessary, but keep the authority to designate Virginia representatives on the Board with the jurisdictions that fund Metro. Require Loudoun and Prince William to also contribute to reflect the benefits they receive from Metro and VRE induced economic activity. As part of the package, relax some of the worst of the tolls on I-66. And finally address the long-term needs of other transit systems in the state.

This would be a true “win/win” scenario, but of course that is not the current governing ethos in Richmond of: “I win, you lose.”

In other transportation matters, a question was asked at the recent town hall meeting, about how we are addressing transportation infrastructure to support the commercial development near GMHS. We are adding projects to regional plans so that when there is more certainty, we will be able to build what is essential for the actual development. This transportation work could be part of the agenda for a special task force to coordinate the entire project with Metro, the universities and Fairfax County.

Regionally, we are working to secure funding and move the Route Seven Bus Rapid Transit project to the next step, which will not require dedicated lanes in the City or operate on Broad Street East of Washington Street. Meanwhile, we must continue to address neighborhood traffic calming needs and on-going commercial parking shortages. Finally, we will endeavor to do all of this and also engage in planning for the emerging challenges and opportunities of electric cars and autonomous vehicles.

 


David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.

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