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Votes

Funding Plan Receives Public Support

Resident Steve Vaughn moved to Loudoun County in 1994, when the population was, in his words, about the same as the school system’s enrollment today. In that time, Vaughn has seen the primary artery roads become clogged with vehicles and gridlock beginning as early as 6 a.m. in the morning and by 3 p.m. for the ride home.

"The time spent in our cars commuting … is one of the things holding this county back," he said.

Vaughn was one of 31 speakers at a public input session held by Supervisor Scott York (I-At large) June 21 to discuss the proposed regional transportation funding plan before the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). York serves as the Authority’s treasurer and chair of its finance working group.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the General Assembly passed the Transportation Funding Bill, known as HB3202, which gives the Authority regional control of transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads; and allows the Authority to impose seven taxes and fees whose revenues could generate up to $300 million per year for local regional transportation projects.

In addition, the bill also allows the jurisdictions to independently enact commercial real estate assessments, local vehicle registration fees and impact fees under certain circumstances, creating the potential for an additional $100 million for the transportation pot.

Of the revenues generated by the bill, 40 percent is returned to the jurisdiction were the funds were collected and the remaining 60 percent goes to the Authority.

The Authority is made up of 14 voting and two nonvoting members, all appointed. The voting members include one representative from each of the participating jurisdictions including Loudoun County, a state Senate representative, two representatives from the House of Delegates and two governor appointees. The nonvoting members are representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Of those who spoke last Thursday, at least 21 did so as representatives of an association or other business-related organization; and overwhelmingly the crowd supported the approval of the bill, as a first step.

HOWEVER, EVEN those who urged the Authority to enact the funding mechanisms, which could happen as early as July 12, expressed concern over the speed at which the Authority is moving and the unknowns.

"We recognize the result wasn’t a perfect solution, but we urge you to support [the bill]," Wally Owings, president, Committee for Dulles, said. "We also urge that the projects be prioritized by their impact regionally and not [for the benefit of one jurisdiction]."

At the time of the input session, the projects that would be funded through bonds issued by the Authority and the criteria for selecting those projects was unknown. A list of projects was released by the Authority Monday and it inlcudes more than $10 million worth of improvements in Loudoun County.

Prince William Supervisor Martin Nohe, who serves as vice chairman of the Authority, said the projects being considered for funding are existing, established projects contained either on the Transportation Improvement Program/Constrained Long Range Plan or on the TransAction 2030 Regional Transportation Plan.

"Everything we do is linked to one of two already existing documents," Nohe said.

ANOTHER MAJOR CONCERN, raised at the input session was the Authority's power to issue bonds and what impact that debt may have on the participating jurisdictions.

Even York said he had questions about the Authority issuing bonds and said that if the debt counts against the Loudoun's debt cap, he would not support the measure.

"It's not a bill any of us would want to come up with at the end of the day. … We have serious challenges to overcome. There are serious answers that need to be given …," he said. "The NVTA is not a creation of local government, it came from the state. It is a beast of the state and any bonding should be on the state."

Nohe said the legality of whether the Authority can issue bonds and who becomes responsible for the debt has been a discussion among the Authority's members. He said the Authority has received a preliminary finding from the Attorney General's office, which says that the Authority issuing bonds is not a violation of the state constitution. To be on the safe side, however, the Authority plans to challenge its own powers in court.

"On July 12, the Authority will act on the taxes and projects and will then file a bond validation suit," Nohe said. "We will ask the courts to review the legality of the bond issue."

Nohe said it is a way to have the courts verify that what the Authority is doing is legal.

Nohe also said the Authority has received conformation from the three major bond-rating agencies that any debt would solely be the responsibility of the Authority.

"Some critics say it would be overlapping debt. That is a half truth," Nohe said. "Overlapping debt doesn't necessarily affect debt capacity. The bond rating agencies have said that because the bonds are issued by NVTA, the debt would be NVTA's alone and not count against the jurisdictions."