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.
You can follow the discussion through the Comments feed.