WASHINGTON - Northern Virginia Transportation Authority members yesterday unanimously approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to swiftly find a funding plan for the state's much-needed transportation projects.
Following a Virginia Supreme Court decision last week that said the authority's taxing ability was unconstitutional, the NVTA has ceased collecting seven taxes and fees - which now must be refunded to taxpayers - that were to pay for regional road and transit projects.
"Northern Virginia residents and commuters are facing a catastrophe," NVTA chairman Chris Zimmerman said in a release. "Everyone across the region will feel the pain of the eradication of these vital transportation funds, unless the General Assembly acts now."
Lawmakers should take "expeditious action to provide funding for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority" and allow the region to move forward with the list of transportation projects that the agency has planned to fund, the release stated.
NVTA members will have to begin refunding as much as $12 million in taxes and fees the agency has collected since January, none of which has been spent yet.
While awaiting the court's ruling, the agency had prepared an initial offering of $102 million of bonds from $130 million that they were authorized to issue. That bond issue has been canceled. The NVTA expected to collect $300 million annually from the taxes and fees.
The state Supreme Court's unanimous ruling found that regional bodies cannot be delegated the ability to levy those taxes and fees, and that only the General Assembly has that power.
The ruling also effectively invalidated bonding and taxing powers given to similar regional authorities that are being formed in Richmond and the Hampton Roads regions of the state.
Virginia officials and lawmakers were considering several remedies this week, including a Democrat-proposed statewide gas tax, which supporters argue would raise $150 million annually. That proposal has received a cold response from Republicans, who instead favor pushing local governments in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, rather than the General Assembly, to vote to impose new taxes.
The NVTA is opposed to local governments levying such taxes, according to a spokeswoman for the agency who said it is the General Assembly's role to impose those taxes.
"[Lawmakers] voted for these taxes already, and it would be very simple for them to just vote for them again," NVTA spokeswoman Kala Quintana said earlier this week.
If no agreement is reached this week before the General Assembly adjourns, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would likely call a special legislative session later this year.