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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Community meetings address tax options for funding transportation

Fairfax County can no longer county on state funding for transportation projects to relieve congestion. The county needs $3 billion over the next 10 years, while state funding has dropped to zero and federal funding for transportation has been allocated through 2018.

So the county either has to come up with a new revenue source or lower expectations. That was the key message at the first of nine public meetings being held throughout the county over the next few weeks. The Board of Supervisors authorized the meetings, one in each jurisdiction, to generate community dialogue and gauge community opinion on the prospect of raising taxes to pay for road and transit projects.

The meeting for the Mason District will be held next Monday, Oct. 1, in the Mason District Government Center at 7 p.m. Residents can also take an online survey on transportation funding. The public comments and results of the survey will be presented to the board Oct. 23.

At the meeting in West Springfield Sept. 24, Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, outlined the funding problem and described several tax and other funding options. He said the Board of Supervisors is interested in hearing community feedback but in the end could choose any of the options, a combination, or none of them.  

The following revenue options, listed randomly, are on the table:

  •   Increasing the income tax an additional 0.5 percent for residents and businesses could generate an estimated $229 million a year.

  •  Raising the retail sales tax by 0.5 percent could generate $83 million annually.

  •   Implementing a meals tax on prepared food and drinks purchased at commercial establishments could raise $80 million a year.

  • Increasing the real estate tax an additional one cent on $100 of assessed value could raise $20 million a year.

  • An increase in the gas tax by 1 percent would generate $12 million. A one-cent-per-gallon increase would generate $4 million.

  • Raising the personal property tax (charged on cars, trucks, trailers, and boats) by 10 cents per $100 of assessed value would generate $11 million a year. The current rate is $4.57 per $100.

  • The county could raise $120 million a year by approving a new “vehicle miles traveled tax” of about one cent per mile.

  • A new $1-a-day parking fee in public lots would raise less than $1 million annually.

  • Raising the commercial and industrial property tax by one cent on $100 of assessed value would raise $3.8 million. The current rate is 11 cents per $100.

  • The county could expand the amount of contributions from developers—currently in effect in three tax districts, Fairfax Center, Centreville, and Tysons Corner—and could implement the contributions countywide. This could generate $7 million a year, excluding Tysons Corner developers.

  •  A new 1 percent sales tax on services to consumers, such as haircuts, repairs, and dry cleaning, could raise $367.5 million a year.

  • Other potential taxes and fees could generate a total of $118.4 million a year. These include a real estate transfer tax ($38 million), one-time registration fee for vehicle purchases ($32.6 million), sales tax on vehicle repairs ($18.5 million), tax on hotel rooms ($10 million), a $10 vehicle safety inspection fee ($9 million), a $10 annual vehicle registration fee ($9 million), and a tax on rental cars ($1.3 million).

Some of the options would require approval by the General Assembly (increasing the sales tax and gas tax, for example). The Board of Supervisors has the authority to initiate a referendum on some of the options, like the meals tax, while others could be adopted by a vote of the board (personal property and real estate tax increases). The impact of the different options on individual taxpayers would vary, greatly, too.

During the meeting, Biesiadny said a deteriorating transportation infrastructure makes it more difficult to attract new businesses to the county, and thus hampers economic growth. “Failure to improve transportation,” he said, “will lead to longer commutes, reduced productivity, few jobs as businesses move out of the county, a weakened economy, and more air pollution.”  

The county has identified a long list of unfunded but needed projects throughout the county, including several road widening or other improvements in the Annandale/Mason area: Little River Turnpike; Columbia Pike; Backlick Road; John Marr Drive, Maple Place, and McWhorter Place in central Annandale; the Route 7/Route 50 intersection in Seven Corners; and Route 7 and Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads.

The county’s list of improvements includes bicycling, pedestrian, and bus improvements, as well as road projects.

The Board of Supervisors directed the Fairfax County Transportation Department to develop a benefit-cost analysis tool to determine which projects should get priority for funding.

State Sen. Dave Marsden, who attended the West Springfield meeting, put the problem in context. “We wouldn’t have to do this if the state was living up to its responsibilities in funding transportation,” he said. Several transportation funding bills were killed in the House by representatives from rural areas.

The solution preferred by Marsden is an increase in the state gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since the tax was enacted in 1986. The tax is 17 cents a gallon, but the buying power of the tax has actually declined to about 8 cents, he said, because cars have gotten much more fuel efficient.

Noting that some legislators have signed anti-tax pledges, he acknowledged, “it’s very, very difficult in this climate to raise taxes.”


  1. All funding options that have to be approved by the General Assembly were originally part of a funding model passed by the GA in 2007 - called HB3202. The bill was later struck down as unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court - because the GA did not have the power to delegate taxing powers to regional authorities (such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority).

    For all non-HB3202 funding options, the county has calculated expected household impacts, but has not done so for the state funding options.

    I put all funding options into a graph based on their annual revenue. All funding options with an asterisk are part of HB3202:

  2. Please do not raise taxes!!

  3. I am confused. If the GA bill was unconstitutional in 2007 (and if I remember it was struck down so quickly the judges first cups of coffee didn't have time to cool before they unanimously came to their ruling - and it was Tim Kaine's hallmark legislation) what makes them constitutional now? I hope they are not being rehashed and the options in your graph are at least legal.

  4. I believe that what made HB3202 unconstitutional, was that it delegated the taxes and fees to be administered by the regional institutions (like NVTA). It is not unconstitutional to pass the taxes directly through the GA.