A letter to the Virginia legislature by Matthew D Helm
On the cusp of a recession, Virginians face a crisis that threatens to grind the state to a halt. Runaway inflation, a down housing market, and low consumer confidence affect the incomes of individuals, businesses, and the government. Soon the budget for transportation will dry up and Virginia will be faced with the decision to tighten her belt or raise taxes to provide necessary money for maintenance and to start new projects.
The simple solution is always the same; raise taxes. The only major disagreement between republicans and democrats is where the taxes will be imposed. However, when logic is applied to our current situation, higher taxes are the last thing consumers and businesses need. Raising costs is not the way to stimulate growth. It’s time to think outside the box.
If we cannot afford to maintain existing roads, then we certainly should not be spending money on new projects that will also need maintenance in the future. Adjusting for inflation, the six cent tax increase on already suffocating gas prices will not be enough in a few years. Raising the sales tax in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will not provide the necessary revenues if consumers continue to spend less money and charging homeowners more money to sell their homes won’t fix the housing market. Tolls on new roads, however, may be a step in the right direction.
The solution as I see it is a simple one: Allow private companies to provide many of the new roads needed. The majority of the current transportation budget can then be used for maintenance on existing roads. Any surplus in the budget can then be used to start new projects. Private corporations should then be allowed to “pick up the slack.”
Northern Virginians have a perfect example in our own back yard; The Dulles Greenway. The owners of the Greenway, TRIP II, bought land from its owners at market price, built the road using conventional financing, and maintain the road at their expense. The state troopers patrolling the Greenway are paid for by TRIP II with no expense to the tax payer, and the moneys provided from their efforts goes to the state. The best news is that it produces revenue for the state (3.1 million in real estate taxes alone in 2007).
Allowing the market to decide whether the roads are needed is another benefit. This will cut down on unnecessary maintenance to justify bloated budgets. It will ease traffic congestion on some roads, and create new job opportunities throughout the state.
I ask the legislature to act responsibly and think outside of the “raise taxes box.” Give corporations the chance to thrive in Virginia. Give consumers a choice in their commute. Allow the people to keep more of the money they work hard to bring home. Governor Kaine has said, "Adult leadership means taking adult responsibility to solve challenges.” Let’s do just that.