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Potential NVTA Lawsuit Shockwaves

By Greg L | 31 December 2007 | 13th HOD District, Virginia Politics, US Senate | 15 Comments

Northern Virginia will collect an estimated $335 million additional tax revenue annually beginning tomorrow under the provisions of last year’s transportation compromise.  The new taxes affect car rentals, hotel stays, car repairs, and real estate transfers and impose new fees on vehicle licensing and registrations.  Should everything work according to plan, this money will supposedly be used to finance transportation infrastructure improvements in Northern Virginia.  A major problem with this plan, though, is that it depends on the outcome of a legal challenge to the law that authorized these new taxes that was filed by Delegate Bob Marshall.  Should Marshall win, and there’s a strong possibility that he will, it’s going to be interesting to see how the NVTA will manage to refund tax payments that it unlawfully collected and what this will do to Marshall’s expected run for the United States Senate.

Bob Marshall’s lawsuit objects to the establishment of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority as an agency with the power to impose and collect taxes on state constitutional grounds.  In Virginia, only elected officials can impose taxes, and none of the decision makers on the NVTA are directly elected, but are appointed by local governing bodies.  Some aren’t elected by anyone at all.  A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for January 8th, and while Hampton Roads deferred collection of these new taxes until April — allowing the legal basis for these taxes to be settled before they start collecting them, the NVTA is plowing ahead anyways.  It’s an awfully risky move for the NVTA.  If they lose, it’s going to be a huge mess.

The other fallout here if the NVTA gets caught operating in an unconstitutional manner is that Delegate Bob Marshall, who is almost certain to make a bid for the United States Senate this year, is going to pull off another incredibly high-profile victory.  As author of the wildly popular Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment, he’s got solid credentials on moral issues to take on the campaign trail.  If he manages a win on protecting the constitution from unlawful attempts to hike taxes, his credentials as a fiscal conservative will be stratospheric.  But the fallout of a victory here could easily be much larger than that.

The great transportation compromise of 2007 has turned out to be much less politically rewarding for it’s promoters than originally hoped for, and is now a convenient whipping boy employed by anyone challenging the political establishment with it’s strange mix of abusive driver fees, tax hikes, and bond issues.  In an attempt to make every legislator needed to support it marginally happy, it’s managed to include something for everyone to hate.  Perhaps one of the most egregious problems with the plan was the regional authority scheme, which went from marginally palatable to utterly terrible after Governor Kaine made several changes in it after it finally landed on his desk.  While most were rushing towards getting the compromise done so they could trumpet that Republicans had managed to actually do something to solve the number one issue in the commonwealth at the time, a few, a very few, started calling foul.  Bob Marshall was the lead voice in that dissent, and very publicly put himself at odds with the House leadership in the process.

Had legislators listened to Bob Marshall, it probably would have entirely unraveled the transportation compromise and many were concerned that this would have handed Democrats a huge stick to beat Republican incumbents up with during the following elections as the “can’t get it done crowd”.  There’s probably a lot of truth in that, and with time running short and a lot at stake, a lot of folks just held their noses and voted for the compromise as the least unpalatable alternative.  If it turns out that they ignored an unconstitutional scheme within this compromise, the naysayers will get to demonstrate that they can be trusted to do the right thing, even when it’s not politically convenient.  When voter’s trust of their elected officials is clearly a scarce commodity (just look at Congressional approval ratings), having someone not only call out the popular majority for doing something wrong, but endlessly bull-dogging that issue to completion taps into a host of political lore that is positively massive.

It’s the underdog who fought for the right thing against all odds, and won.  It’s the outsider who refused to compromise his principles for political convenience.  It’s the legislator that got consistently punished by the leadership for doing the right thing and ultimately prevailed.  Americans love an iconoclast like this who chooses the hard moral right over the easy moral wrong, and not only do they love it, but they’re inclined to trust those who do it.  Bob Marshall was made for this role, as this isn’t some recent political conversion, but a consistent pattern of behavior he has demonstrated throughout his political career.  If there is anyone who consistently flies in the face of conventional political wisdom while defending a well known set of principles, Bob Marshall is the guy.  Winning this one would make sure that everyone in the Commonwealth found out about it.

Could you imagine a guy like this in the United States Senate?  They’d have to start wearing helmets at Senate Committee meetings, it would shake them up that much.

Even if the NVTA taxing scheme is ultimately upheld, just having engaged in this battle is a big plus.  The media coverage would be more extensive if he wins, but even with a loss this is the perfect kind of soundbite to have splashed across the media.  A lot of voters would be rather encouraged to hear Bob Marshall talk about actually following the rules right as the General Assembly starts it’s session.  On January 8th, if the pretty obviously unconstitutional NVTA taxing authority is struck down however, watch out for a big announcement from Bob Marshall soon after in regards to the United States Senate race in Virginia.  It would be the perfect one-two punch.

The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.

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  1. FSBO Louisville said on 31 Dec 2007 at 1:22 pm:
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    I liked your comment about Bob Marshall being in the senate and everyone having to wear helmets. Good analogy. Thanks for a great read.

  2. Anonymous said on 31 Dec 2007 at 2:11 pm:
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    While I sort of admire Marshall for sticking up for this, I do think this lawsuit will be tossed out. It just not going to happen. I do feel for Marshall somewhat because he is now a “lone ranger” within the GA Republican caucus. This has been a “hot-button” issue within some circles of the PWC GOP but most of the rest of the state could care less about HB3202, with th exception of some small groups. Even the abuser fee stuff died off when people found out they would not be overly fined for a general speeding ticket. While, I don’t like the bill myself, I think its really much ado about nothing for Marshall and company because even the anti-tax organizations could not disagree that 3202 was bad when it was passed. Norquist gave his blessing to approve it while the Club for Growth opposed it and VCAP sent very mixed messages until people got upset about abuser fees. In the end, I think Marshall picked the wrong fight at the wrong time, but I certainly admire him because in the end he knew it would cost him a chairmanship and he still did it.

  3. BVBL Comes aboard the Bob Marshall Cyberexpress « Bloggers 4 Bob Marshall said on 31 Dec 2007 at 2:23 pm:
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    […] his take on Marshall’s battle against the Northern Virginia Tax - errrrr, Transportation - […]

  4. OK, one more thing before I sign off for the year « The right-wing liberal said on 31 Dec 2007 at 2:35 pm:
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    […] one more thing before I sign off for the year Black Velvert Bruce Li is now a contributor to Bloggers 4 Bob […]

  5. ateacher said on 31 Dec 2007 at 2:44 pm:
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    I just picked up my stupid car after some very costly repairs, and I noticed the flyer in the repair shop office that stated that beginning Jan’08 there will be a 5% repair tax in addition to sales tax, labor charge, and the environmental fee. I forgot to ask if the repair tax is to be levied on the entire bill, or just the labor or part components.

  6. anonymoustoo said on 31 Dec 2007 at 3:18 pm:
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    So…what’s Marshall transportation plan and how does he intend to pay for it? Raise taxes state wide in order to alleviate the mess in NoVa and anger the ROVA? Not raise the needed money and tick off NoVa residents? Pull money out of his butt (er… the general fund or rainy day fund or some other overflowing pot of money [/sarcasm] )?

  7. anonymoustoo said on 31 Dec 2007 at 3:18 pm:
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  8. Dolph said on 31 Dec 2007 at 4:32 pm:
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    I am imagining Bob Marshall in the US Senate…and I am watching as reproductive rights vaporize before my eyes…..No thank you. I would prefer that modern contraception stay legal.

    Ms. REDawn will repost that famous youtube.com clip….see for yourselves.

  9. Thumper said on 31 Dec 2007 at 4:37 pm:
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    anonymous, I bet you would be here bitching bloody murder if Senate compromised on a crime bill that allowed the police to search your home at will.

    Bob Plan is listed here: http://delegatebob.com/issues/transportation.html

    While part of it is same old mantra of we don’t get our fair share, part of it shows VDOT is wasteful and this Tax Authority is completely wrong way to go about it.

    This Tax Authority is probably unconstitutional and if you want to be mad at someone, scream at your legislator for voting for it.

  10. ateacher said on 31 Dec 2007 at 7:17 pm:
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    OMG I just don’t get it…. I pay taxes on my car, I pay for plate renewal..and fine, I’ll pay for parts, labor, environ disposal fee, and sales tax on the parts I purchase. But now I could be hit with an additional 5% repair tax?! 10% tax rate to keep my car running? I don’t even commute! My husband takes VRE. What next? A 5% repair tax on home repairs to offset the decline in home values? I understand that we need money to pay for road expansion. So go after the builders who feel the necessity to build on every bare patch of grass, not the middle class joe blow. There should have been an “I don’t commute” waiver on this bill, or an “I use mass transportation” waiver.

  11. Lafayette said on 31 Dec 2007 at 8:16 pm:
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    Here you go. Chemical love canals, and all.

  12. Anonymous said on 31 Dec 2007 at 10:28 pm:
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    Dolph said on 31 Dec 2007 at 4:32 pm:
    I am imagining Bob Marshall in the US Senate…and I am watching as reproductive rights vaporize before my eyes


  13. Anonymous said on 31 Dec 2007 at 10:30 pm:
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    Thumper said on 31 Dec 2007 at 4:37 pm:
    scream at your legislator for voting for it.


  14. Anonymous said on 1 Jan 2008 at 12:17 am:
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    The case is docketed for the January argument session, so there won’t be a decision until the end of the February argument session. (Opinions are handed down the Friday of the session week after the case is heard at argument. You wouldn’t really expect them to decide the case the same week they hear it–and about 30 others–would you?)

    See the Supreme Court website at http://www.courts.state.va.us/scv/home.html

  15. junes_reston said on 1 Jan 2008 at 11:24 am:
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    I believe the law suit will be tossed. The GA granted authority and the VA Constitution allows the GA to designate a third party to collect taxes for specific state programs.

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