State’s high court nixes regional transportation authorities

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

RICHMOND-A Virginia Supreme Court opinion written by a Southampton County native and released Friday is expected to spell the end of the controversial Hampton Roads Transportation Authority.

The court’s ruling against the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s right to impose taxes emasculates the authority and puts the transportation-funding spotlight back on the General Assembly.

The ruling, issued in the form of an opinion by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, is expected to apply to the Hampton Roads authority, as well, since the court found transportation authorities to be constitutionally barred from enacting taxes.

&uot;(T)he Constitution's Bill of Rights clearly contemplate that taxes must be imposed only by a majority of the elected representatives of a legislative body,&uot; Goodwyn wrote. &uot;The constraints that the citizens of Virginia have placed upon the General Assembly regarding the imposition of taxes would be rendered meaningless if the General Assembly were permitted to avoid compliance with these constraints by delegating to (the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority) the decisional authority whether to impose taxes.&uot;

The General Assembly in 2007 passed legislation giving the Northern Virginia group the right to decide whether to enact a schedule of seven regional taxes and fees to be used for transportation improvements within the nine communities that comprise the authority.

Similar legislation allowed Hampton Roads communities to decide whether to create a local authority, which would then vote whether to impose a slate of seven taxes and fees on residents of the 12 affected cities and counties.

In June, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors voted in favor of creating the authority, joining six other localities that had already done so. The newly created organization soon approved the new regional taxes, though it postponed levying them until after the current General Assembly session to give time for legislators to make changes to the fee schedules.

By virtue of his position as chairman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, Stan D. Clark serves on the Hampton Roads authority's governing board. He was one of three members who voted in favor of creating the authority when the Isle of Wight board discussed the matter during a packed public hearing in June.

Clark had not heard the news of the Supreme Court's decision when reached by a reporter on Friday, but he expressed concern that it would result in residents of his county’s &uot;bedroom communities&uot; facing even worse commutes in years to come.

Calling himself &uot;a major critic and a major backer&uot; of the HRTA, Clark said, &uot;There clearly should have been a statewide gas tax all along.&uot;

&uot;The fees,&uot; he added, &uot;were a bad fix, but at least they were a fix. Now, we have no fix.&uot;