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Why I Will Not Join The Chamber

By Greg L | 24 November 2012 | Virginia Politics | 11 Comments

Last week leadership from the Chambers of Commerce from a bunch of localities buttonholed members of the General Assembly so they could yell at them to raise gas taxes, or as the Loudoun Chamber president put it “they shouldn’t bother coming back from Richmond.”  After, yes after this delegation claimed in all sincerity this is what the business community demanded, the Prince William Chamber put up a one question survey with the obvious aim of generating statistics from the business community to justify the hard line on tax raises they settled on before asking anyone what they thought.

Ready, fire, aim.

Here’s what the Chamber apparently thinks is a reasonable means of generating legitimate statistical evidence to support their pre-ordained “solution.”

1. State legislators are exploring a number of options to generate revenue to maintain and expand Virginia’s infrastructure and transit systems. Of the funding options below, which do you favor? Please check all that apply. 

 Increasing state gas tax
 Creating mileage tax (VMT)
 Creating regional gas tax (NOVA/Hampton Roads)
 Creating regional sales tax (NOVA/Hampton Roads)
 Increasing state sales tax
 Increasing income tax
 Creating new and/or increasing existing tolls
 None of the above

Yeah, your chamber dues are really working for your benefit, fellow small business owners. The Chamber has been captured by fools that blindly take orders from big-government Statists, and put up polls “soliciting your input” only about how more money can be raised for transportation.  They’ve done none of the the kinds of homework business owners must do on a daily basis to solve problems unless they really want to fail.  Seriously, to the extent we have problems with congestion and road safety (and we do) why in the heck would people who supposedly represent the business community automatically assume that throwing more money at the problem is going to yield any positive benefit whatsoever?

During the last budget cycle the Commonwealth and the federal government went on an unprecedented spending spree on transportation, fueled by money found in an audit of VDOT that wasn’t being used, and starting projects such as the Silver Line Metro to Dulles Airport, and HOT lanes on the beltway which they promised us would provide significant relief.  Those projects aren’t even completed yet, and we have no evidence so far they have failed to deliver the results they promised us.  Since we’re spending many of billions of taxpayer dollars on huge projects now, before we go on the next spending spree we might as well figure out if the last one did what it was promised to do.

Weren’t these the same folks demanding HOT lanes and the Silver Line be built as the solution to our problems in the first place?  They haven’t even been completed yet, and already the “leadership” of the Chamber is demanding more.  Is this how they run their businesses?

Not too surprisingly, the skeptic in me expects these projects won’t deliver on the promises made, because government’s track record on such promises tends to be absolutely awful.  More specifically, the analyst in me strongly suspects that any solution that completely neglects trying to resolve the underlying problem can never amount to more than a band-aid solution, no matter how expensive that solution was.  More lanes, under any funding scheme on the beltway, doesn’t address the core problem.  Metrorail to Dulles doesn’t actually address any problem, since hardly anyone is commuting to the airport during rush hour.  These are political solutions to engineering problems, and politicians make rather lousy engineers.

When you give politicians money on something like this, each one gets a “fair share” of the money to have projects located in their districts, and that’s how you end up with a bypass being built around Danville, VA while Interstates 66 and 95 remain at a standstill.  Money isn’t allocated to tackle the top problems of road congestion and safety, it’s programmed so each member of the General Assembly has an opportunity to crow about how much state money got plowed into their district because of their seniority on the budget committee.  Hand these pols more money and all you’re going to end up with is better campaign advertisements.  Sure, some of those projects will make sense and do some good for some folks, but there’s no way anyone can assume money is being programmed to where it would deliver the best results.  The system itself isn’t designed to do that at all.  It is designed to spend money, not actually solve problems.

The engineering problem is one of congestion and road safety.  The programming problem is we don’t ever direct funds to actually solve those engineering problems.  The political solution proposed by these “smart” leaders in the business community, who should darned well know better than this, is to just increase taxes, as if that somehow would fix this problem.  They’ve completely lost their minds.  An actual solution might look at the engineering problem, align the programming to address that problem, and have legislators act with some degree of collective responsibility towards the people they serve and refuse to corrupt the system for their own political benefit.  That’s pretty much what a business would do if it intended to actually survive in the world of business.

The next time anyone asks me whether I’m interested in joining the Chamber, I’m just going to laugh in their face.  They’re doing little more than enabling the problem, and doing nothing to actually fix it in any way.  Why would I ever pay dues so that fools could pound on tables in front of our elected officials and demand such ignorant nonsense?  I already get enough nonsense without having to actually fund it.



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11 Comments

  1. Dittyman8 said on 25 Nov 2012 at 6:34 am:
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    The next any group like this demands raising taxes, ask them how much have they donated for the cause already to the state? They are always welcomed to put their own money down. Of course, you’ll always get no or some lame excuse for an answer.

  2. Scout said on 25 Nov 2012 at 7:00 am:
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    If congestion is the problem, how do we eliminate congestion? If it’s simply a matter of “engineering”, what are the no-cost engineering solutions to congestion? Can there be a solution to vehicular traffic congestion that does not involve either more road capacity or the construction of alternative means of getting people from A to B (e.g., more and greater use of mass transit)?

  3. Howard Roark said on 25 Nov 2012 at 10:35 am:
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    How about not approving any more residential development for which the developers do not proffer the full costs of education, transportation, etc. that their projects create? I won’t expect an honest position to ba advanced by the Chamber because developers and real estate agents provide most of its funding. Their profits plummet without the corporate welfare and subsidies they get through the area’s boards of supervisors.

    I long for the day that we have a true free market whose economic development is not driven by cronyism and campaign contributions.

  4. I Built It said on 25 Nov 2012 at 1:00 pm:
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    Lets raise the BPOL and Machine and Tools taxes to pay for road improvements, now there is an idea whose time has truly come!

  5. Greg L said on 25 Nov 2012 at 1:38 pm:
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    Scout, good question.

    Congestion isn’t just a case of their being not enough lanes on a main road. Quite often it’s an interchange design problem, a problem with a secondary road not being designed to take the volume of traffic a major corridor is dumping onto it, or not having enough interchanges so all the traffic is being dumped onto a secondary road at one spot and overwhelming it. Sometimes more lanes, or new roads are the answer. Sometimes its not, but it sure is sexier for a legislator to claim responsibility for adding lanes rather than getting a new interchange built, especially if the siting of that interchange might upset some folks affected by it.

    Next commute take note of where congestion is the worst on 95, 495 and 66. I’ll bet almost all of it is happening because of some sort of interchange problem. Adding lanes in that scenario is a weak band-aid fix, because it doesn’t actually address the problem.

  6. Reasonable and Rational said on 26 Nov 2012 at 9:31 am:
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    It first I thought George Will was the smartest man on this Planet but changing that to Greg L.

  7. Harry Wiggins said on 26 Nov 2012 at 5:01 pm:
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    Greg, the congestion on I95 north in the morning and south in the afternoon has nothing to do with “interchange probelms” it has to do with commuters coming as far away as Spotsy to travel to NOVA, and DC for jobs. It’s about traffic volume that comes with suburban sprawl and a lack of good paying jobs where the commuters live.

  8. Scout said on 27 Nov 2012 at 9:12 am:
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    My questions were intended to get at why you think this is largely (or even in significant part) a design/engineering issue. Just from driving around using the system, I don’t get that impression. It strikes me that virtually all the problems I see are from too much volume for too little capacity. However, even if we take the position that this is to some degree (greater or lesser) about design failings, why do we still not have to address the sources of revenue necessary to fix this stuff?

  9. Greg L said on 27 Nov 2012 at 12:34 pm:
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    Somewhat simplified engineering workflow: research the problem, conceptualize solutions, feasibility assessment, establish design requirements, design, implement.

    Our current transportation workflow: Find (more) money, divvy it up in a way that generates political support, find ways to use that money to make politicians happy, spend as much as possible since politicians use spending as a metric of success, discover that problems remain, repeat.

    We have no useful research to identify what the problems are and where they exist beyond “traffic sucks.” Heck, we haven’t even established a usable metric to measure the problem at this point. Instead the discussions open with “we need more money” without even bothering to identify what that money is for, what it will do, or how it can be spent in a way different than the current system that wastes and misdirects resources. As long as this discussion is about how much money we spend, the only likely outcome will be that we spend more money.

    I’d rather fix problems.

  10. Scout said on 28 Nov 2012 at 6:24 am:
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    I suspect that there’s a lot of good data that “measures the problem” at both the state and federal level. Recent projects seem to have been very much targetted at specific congestions issues. You are probably right that one has to hope that we are always trying to think outside the box and that the response to congestion isn’t just dumping money on it. But I get the feeling that you are setting up a hope that the real problems won’t cost money to fix. I think that is unrealistic. Virginia (like a lot of other states and the feds) has not invested in infrastructure nearly enough in recent years. The costs of rectifying this neglect through catch-up measures are much higher than had there been a visionary, steady-state investment over time.

  11. Anonymous said on 29 Nov 2012 at 4:37 pm:
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    Greg L said on 27 Nov 2012 at 12:34 pm:

    Next commute take note of where congestion is the worst on 95, 495 and 66. I’ll bet almost all of it is happening because of some sort of interchange problem. Adding lanes in that scenario is a weak band-aid fix, because it doesn’t actually address the problem.

    Good example of this is the Rt28 and Rt66 “interchange.” All of the interchanges on Rt28 have been updated with overpasses, etc with the exception of the Rt66 interchange. Everyone north of Chantilly have seen these interchange improvements but not the poor folk south of Rt66.

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