Regional Transit Two Step – a new $20 Million Tax Dance

Understandably, there is some confusion regarding the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) legislation The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are seeking from the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Rachana Dixit wrote a good background article in yesterday’s Daily Progress.

As explained in yesterday’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting, the legislative goals are two fold: the authority to create an RTA and, separately, the ability to generate revenue (a 1% sales tax is being contemplated) to be dedicated to transportation funding.  According to Supervisor David Slutsky’s comments at the meeting, “A significant portion of the revenue would be dedicated to transit”.  As a point of reference a 1% sales tax applied in the region is estimated to produce $20 million dollars in new revenue ($8 Million from Charlottesville, $12 Million from Albemarle).

The Free Enterprise Forum considers this a Transit Two step as it creates a yes/no decision regarding the Regional Transit Authority absent the funding and cost data contained in the transportation funding legislation.  Interestingly, the Draft RTA Final Report (pdf) that was released last month indicates:

The development of a Charlottesville-Albemarle RTA would first require a city/county consensus on the desired powers and funding authority, followed by the introduction of the legislation and legislative approval.” (Page 15)

In an attempt to answer this charge, the RTA Joint Working Group has revived an old broad based committee The Funding Options Work Group (FWOG) who produced their final report in 2005 regarding alternative funding mechanisms for regional transportation projects. 

The FWOG and the RTA Joint Working group will meet on Friday, September 19th.  As a part of the prepared agenda for this meeting, it is suggested that two of the “TOUGH ITEMS YET TO BE DISCUSSED”: Cost Allocation Method – how costs will be segregated between City and County and Revenue Allocation Method– how revenues will be segregated between transit and other transportation projects:

Will be decided AFTER enabling legislation has been received. (emphasis in original – nw)

Therefore, the Joint Working Group wishes to obtain two pieces of legislation this session: A new authority to run a transit system, absent a funding mechanism AND new transportation taxation powers without disclosing how they intend to spend the money.

Please pardon the dated transportation reference, but this is clearly putting the cart ahead of the horse. 

Citizens should demand the policy makers determine the cost allocations and funding allocations prior to permitting this proposal to move forward.  The cynic in me believes the Joint Working Group would rather not state how much the $20 million will be required to fund the RTA as opposed to other more widely used transportation projects.

If everyone paying this consumption tax will be subsidizing the fare for the small percentage of the population that rides (or will ride) transit, the citizens deserve to know how much of their $20 million dollars of sales tax burden will be left for long languishing road “priorities” that serve both transit and automobile users.

Depending on the answer, this Regional Transit Two Step could be over before the music starts in Richmond.

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2 responses

  1. […] Rachana Dixit of The Daily Progress has the story from the Charlottesville area perspective.  This news comes at a time local officials are attempting to drum up political support for a new transit authority and a local sales tax option for transportation (see Regional Transit Two Step).  […]

  2. […] 31, Virginia’s General Assembly will give Charlottesville and Albemarle the right to create a Regional Transportation Authority but will not provide any new taxing authority to pay for such a […]

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