Monday, March 3, 2008

More on the Supreme Court Ruling on NVTA and Taxes

Here's more media coverage of Friday's ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court against the NVTA's right to tax for traffic/transit projects (see our Friday afternoon post).

The Bond Buyer, the public newspaper of public finance, reports today that the court's ruling extends beyond Northern Virginia.

"It also effectively invalidates bonding and taxing powers given to similar regional authorities that are being formed in Richmond and the Hampton Roads region, which includes Virginia Beach, according to the attorney representing the group that challenged the NVTA."

Saturday's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the ruling could also mean a special legislative session.

"In a potentially devastating blow to last year's hard-fought transportation fix -- and one that could force the General Assembly into another special session -- the court threw out as unconstitutional the portion of the plan allowing an unelected panel in Northern Virginia to collect taxes for highways and mass transit."

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, meeting with reporters before flying to Kansas and Texas for political events, stopped short of calling for a special session, but he said "it will be hard to do it next week and do it right."

"I think we've got a long spring in front of us," said Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan.

The ruling came as Kaine and the legislature, approaching the close of its annual session, try to unravel another of the transportation plan's controversial features: unpopular driver fees that were supposed to generate $65 million a year.

Meanwhile, Inside reports the ruling means $497 million in approved projects are now on the rocks, with the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority looking to a divided state legislature for a fix.

Filling that gap needs to happen quickly, said NVTA officials. Without the cash, ?the great economic engine that people have taken for granted, perhaps, will start to break down,? said NVTA Chairman Chris Zimmerman.

The transportation authority can?t move ahead with projects ? $44 million worth scheduled in the Prince William area ? until the General Assembly takes action.
?Folks in Northern Virginia have been screaming for meaningful transportation solutions for almost a generation,? NVTA Vice Chairman Marty E. Nohe said on Friday.

The death of NVTA?s taxing authority also means Virginia isn?t going to have the $50 million in annual Metrorail contributions or the $25 million promised to Virginia Railway Express.

"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," said Governor Kaine. "I remain committed to working with the General Assembly to ensure that the Commonwealth provides adequate funding for our transportation needs. Over the next few days, my legal staff and I will work closely with the Attorney General?s Office and members of the General Assembly to determine what alternatives are available to provide adequate transportation funding."

And in a press release (PDF) issued by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Authority Chairman Chris Zimmerman of Arlington County urged quick action by the General Assembly. "It is critical that the General Assembly act expeditiously to address this problem so that the vital transportation solutions we are prepared to implement are not delayed any further."

The Sun Gazette reports the "court's opinion, written by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, overturned the Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick's ruling last year that allowed the NVTA to collect several new taxes and fees."

?The General Assembly has failed to adhere to the mandates of accountability and transparency that the Constitution requires,? Goodwyn's opinion read. ?If payment of the regional taxes and fees is to be required by a general law, it is the prerogative and the function of the General Assembly . . . to make that decision.?

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