Friday, February 29, 2008

State Supreme Court Overturns Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Taxing Power

The Washington Post is reporting this afternoon that the Virginia Supreme Court today overturned a landmark measure designed to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, declaring that the creation of a regional transportation authority to levy taxes was unconstitutional.

The decision by the state's highest court prevents the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority from financing more than $300 million a year in regional highway and transit projects. The authority has already begun collecting new taxes and fees for projects such as a new interchange on the Fairfax County Parkway and the widening of the Prince William Parkway.

The authority was created by the Virginia legislature as part of the state's first transportation funding bill in 21 years. Proponent said the law must be upheld to allow needed road projects to go forward. But opponents, including eight Northern Virginia residents and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, argued that the authority can't impose taxes and issue bonds, in part because it isn't elected by voters.

Today's decision leaves the road funding plan in peril and sends the matter back to the state legislature, which passed the transportation bill last year after more than two years of delicate negotiations.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who helped push the plan through the General Assembly, expressed his disappointment in a statement. He has scheduled a news conference for 2:15 p.m. to discuss the matter, before leaving for a weekend of campaigning for presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

"I am disappointed by the Supreme Court's finding that the limited authority to impose taxes granted by the General Assembly in 2007, by an overwhelming vote by both bodies, was unconstitutional," Kaine said in the statement.

The article added that Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax) blamed Kaine for the ruling because he amended the transportation bill to shift the taxing authority from the localities to the regional transportation authority. Local elected officials asked Kaine to make the change.

According to the Supreme Court of Virginia:

"In an appeal from a bond validation proceeding instituted by a regional transportation authority in circuit court, it is concluded that a multi-faceted chapter of the 2007 Acts of Assembly does not violate the "single object" requirement for legislation specified in Article IV, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia, but that certain provisions thereof are unconstitutional due to their delegation of the General Assembly's power of taxation to a political subdivision that is not a county, city, town, or regional government and that is not an elected body. Although the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit it, such delegation is prohibited by necessary implication based on the language of certain Constitutional provisions. The taxes and fees already imposed are held to be null and void, and the circuit court erred in validating the proposed bonds based thereon. The invalid statutes allowing the authority to impose the taxes and fees are severed from the remaining portions of the legislation, the circuit court's judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and final judgment is entered."

Click here (PDF) to read the complete Virginia Supreme Court ruling on the case.

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