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Editorial: On Funding the Silver Line

Commonwealth will collect the dividends, but refuses to invest; Northern Virginia pays.

Northern Virginia localities should together commission a study now to determine how much growth is stimulated by the opening of the Metro stations in Tysons and along the toll road out to Dulles, how many new jobs created, quantify how much that growth leads to increased income and sales tax, and how much revenue (taxes) would get shipped off to Commonwealth coffers.

There should be a way to keep that money here in Northern Virginia.

Residents from around the region will pay for the majority of the construction of rail to Dulles via the Dulles Toll Road.

Virginia is all too happy to benefit from one of the biggest drivers of the Northern Virginia economic engine, Dulles Airport. Rail to Dulles, part of the plan for the airport since its conception, is a key part of supporting the expected volume growth in passengers and other commerce at the airport. But at every turn, the state has pushed paying for the rail line onto Northern Virginia, onto Fairfax and Loudoun county governments, onto property owners in the corridor and especially onto drivers on the Dulles Toll Road.

While Virginia had committed to contributing an additional $150 million to the rail project, and at various points the governor and the General Assembly dangled $200-300 million, it now appears that money will not be forthcoming. It was never enough.

This is one more example of the Commonwealth of Virginia happily collecting revenues, including income and sales taxes, generated from the economic vitality of Northern Virginia, then forcing Northern Virginia residents to pay for the infrastructure of that economic activity out of local funds and personal pockets.

The most recent Virginia Department of Aviation report identifies at least $17.5 billion in annual economic activity in Virginia from Dulles and Reagan National airports, with Dulles providing the majority of that. The number of jobs created and maintained by this activity is staggering, and in Virginia, the state collects 100 percent of the income tax; there is no local income tax.

The state collects the income tax from the good jobs generated here in Northern Virginia by the airports, by the high tech firms, by the business innovators, by proximity to the Pentagon and the federal government. Then the governor celebrates the result, that Virginia is top ranked as business friendly.

The Commonwealth collects much of the tax revenue that results from this activity, but would pay only three percent of the $6.2 billion cost of rail to Dulles. This will force more than 80 percent of the costs of building rail to Dulles to local drivers and property owners. The toll road contribution is projected at 57 percent of the total.

Having major airports adequately served by rail and other transportation options is more than an amenity, it is part of sustaining the economic benefit that comes from major airports. The question is not whether we should be building rail to Dulles, but about who benefits and who pays.