Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Budgetary matters


Photo by SurvivalWoman on Flickr.
Slip in the budgetary back door: Mayor Gray's budget proposal includes language that would give the city budget autonomy, forcing Congress to actively deny the city autonomy rather than grant it. (Washington Times)

Gas tax hike goes down: Maryland's General Assembly rejected a 6% sales tax on gas last night during the last night of the session. The tax, pushed by Governor O'Malley, would have ensured steady revenue for transportation. (Examiner)

Wal-Mart slows down: Rather than open 4 stores by the end of the year, Walmart will not open its first store until the end of 2013. Activist opposition contributed to the delay. (Post)

If a parking lot closes...: Two public parking lots in downtown Bethesda close today in anticipation of a massive, 940 space garage. One wonders whether, with no parking for 30 months, people won't just take transit. (Patch)

This boom ain't a bubble: Despite fears of an impending apartment bubble, preference and census data indicates that perhaps the national boom in apartment construction is not only justifiable, but too small to keep up with demand. (Forbes)

The exurbs are toast: Census data show that exurban areas have taken a steep slide since 2010, and growth in central cities were largely to blame. (Streetsblog)

And...: The Howard Theatre, closed for 32 years, is open for business once again. (DCist) ... Rosslyn Metro's second entrance is now a hole in the ground. (DC Metrocentric) ... Metro's Rush+ service needs new signage, which will look like this. (TBD)

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast living in Mount Vernon Square. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin

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Good news on the gas tax going down. Finally some fiscal sanity.

by Pelham1861 on Apr 10, 2012 8:52 am • linkreport

So, a minority of shortsighted and racial opposition to WalMart threatens the new jobs and the clean-up of urban blight for the district. This is a shame. :(

by Pelham1861 on Apr 10, 2012 8:54 am • linkreport

No, it is shame that gas taxes didn't go up. There were any number of commentators on GGW who bitched about the increase because it didn't account for transit for something stupid. Higher gas taxes for everyone! It is good for you. Like bloodletting and leeches!

And we all know the Mayor is just a pawn of those scary people in W7 and w8 so why bother post anything good that he does. Despite bike lanes being built, streetcars money being found, and budget autonony we all know that M. Barry still runs this town.*

* I do notice less dog parks (1)

(1) Can we measure the externanality of dogs and start charging DC residents $100 a year for dog permits?

by charlie on Apr 10, 2012 8:58 am • linkreport

@Pelham1861: By "fiscal sanity," you mean continuing to let committed transportation expenditures far surpass revenues?

by Gray on Apr 10, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

I agree there's nothing inherently good or bad about gas taxes for transportation. It's a matter of personal preference. Would you rather spend an extra $120 per year in gas taxes or spend an extra dozen or so hours a year sitting in traffic (ironically burning more gas, paying even more gas tax). Personally, I value my time.

by Falls Church on Apr 10, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

. Finally some fiscal sanity.

Are you aware that this will reduce revenues? The money has to come from somewhere. Inability to pay one's bills is the exact opposite of fiscal sanity.

It's amazing the degree to which conservatives live in a world of perverted language.

by Tyro on Apr 10, 2012 9:28 am • linkreport

@Falls Church; no. There are benefits.

We have to import half our crude oil, and a full quarter of those imports are not coming from Mexico or Canada.

Small increases in gas taxes can change behavior. I'd expect if we have Canada's levels of gas taxes, in the long term we'd drive like them.

it's a small change. Canada is not the Netherlands or even the UK ($10 gas). But even a little helps, and we need to money for infrastrucutre. Plus, we will be paying $5 gas on day anyway.

by charlie on Apr 10, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

@Charlie

I think you can extrapolate further. If we had gas taxes at 75c or a dollar a gallon through the 90s and 2000s, I think our country as a whole would be in a lot better shape. The outer suburbs would not have grown nearly as quickly, we would use less fuel overall, and we would be importing probably a million barrels a day less of oil. Not to mention the money people saved on gas would be put to better uses in the economy.

Better quality roads/mass transit, less time in traffic etc etc.

by Kyle W on Apr 10, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

Current gas price in the Netherlands (http://www.brandstofprijzen.nl/):

~€1.73/l = $8.59/gal

Oh, and the government is desperately looking for more money to get the budget deficit down from 4.6% to 3% (US=11%), so another increase in the gas tax might be on its way.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport

Wow. The "Rush Only" caption in the colored "dots" will be less than an inch tall. Good luck reading that from across the platform.

I'm a bit surprised that they're not using the opportunity to switch more stations over to the new-design signage found at Largo, NY Ave, and Gallery Place.

by andrew on Apr 10, 2012 10:30 am • linkreport

Unifying argument: Gas taxes are needed to fund the infrastructure gas powered vehicles run on. These infrastructure investments have tangible financial returns that exceed their costs.

Divisive argument: Gas taxes are needed to modify behavior that a certain segment of the population thinks is harmful but that an equally as large portion of the population thinks is fine.

I'm a proponent of raising gas taxes (and tolling more roads) because done in moderation, this is a no-brainer. The resistance to doing it, however, comes from the fear people have that what we're really trying to do is implement wholesale cultural change that radically alters lifestyle. Common sense infrastructure financing and investment should not be about cultural revolution otherwise it will never happen.

by Falls Church on Apr 10, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

@Falls Church: We can casually subsidize all sorts of behavior without a problem, but the minute we start taxing anything, it's just an attempt to "implement wholesale cultural change that radically alters lifestyle," right?

I guess radically changing lifestyles by building freeways everywhere was fine until we started asking people to pay for it.

by Gray on Apr 10, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

Is there a particular reason the Netherlands, a country near the top of population density lists, that's not even twice the size of New Jersey is often used in these discussions? The country has some of the highest taxes in the world applied to fuel. I don't see how that helps any arguments.

by selxic on Apr 10, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

The problem with raising gas taxes as a solution to funding transport infrastructure, is that at this point signficant increases in gas taxes will translate into increases in sales of hybrid, electric, and other high MPG vehicles (as well as more usage of other modes, etc) Thats great for the climate, for energy security, etc - but not so good for actually financing infrastructure - a Prius adds as much to congestion as a gas powered Hummer.

That doesnt speak to the immediate problem facing Maryland, but at some point we need to shift further to tolls, or to a direct VMT charge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

@AWalker

Or just keep on increasing the tax to keep up with rising fuel efficiency.

by xmal on Apr 10, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

I have no qualms about raising the gas tax. What I have qualms about is raising the gas tax to then fund other transportation infrastructure.

You want to toll more roads and raise the gas tax so that what the US spends on road infrastructure is fully funded by the drivers instead of just 50%? Great, no problems.

It's when the so called moralists who think that everyone else should fully fund their transportation preferences, and try to justify it by pretending theay have some sort of moral highground over everyone else.

by dtr on Apr 10, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

@ selxic:Is there a particular reason the Netherlands, a country near the top of population density lists, that's not even twice the size of New Jersey is often used in these discussions?

Yes. The Netherlands is proof that many of the proposals that GGW folks like work (lotsa biking, high gas taxes, trains, urban density, low unemployment, little corruption, gay marriage, reasonable abortion laws, few guns). Also, I hang around here and supplement facts about the Netherlands to prevent Santorum-like fantasies.

Question back, why would a country with a high density be a bad model for the Greater Washington area? Is density low here? The Washington Metropolitan area is about 1/3 the size of the Netherlands but very comparable with the Randstad, the urban area of the Netherlands consisting of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. If you expand our area to the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area things scale pretty well to the Netherlands.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

"direct VMT charge"

This is just about the only thing that could possibly be less popular than raising the gas tax.

by Boomer on Apr 10, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

And the MD gas tax was a reasonable increase.

While I appreciate the point about rhetoric, I think you need to combine a program for efficiency and providinig better roads in exchange for higher gas taxes. It is tough -- a lot of the bad roads aren't covered by state gas tax money but a majority of them are.

by charlie on Apr 10, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

Plus the netherlands still has plenty of open space and suburbs. The population density is high but many parts of the country (in terms of area) aren't urbanized.

by Canaan on Apr 10, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

We can casually subsidize all sorts of behavior without a problem, but the minute we start taxing anything, it's just an attempt to "implement wholesale cultural change that radically alters lifestyle," right?

Raising the gas tax is NOT necessarily an attempt to change culture or behavior. Re-read my post because that's my whole point. The discussion should be about raising funds for high returning infrastructure investments. NOT changing behavior and lifestyle as these commenters said:

Small increases in gas taxes can change behavior.

If we had gas taxes at 75c or a dollar a gallon through the 90s and 2000s, I think our country as a whole would be in a lot better shape. The outer suburbs would not have grown nearly as quickly

by Falls Church on Apr 10, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

@ Canaan: Plus the netherlands still has plenty of open space and suburbs. The population density is high but many parts of the country (in terms of area) aren't urbanized.

Well, that depends on your definition of urbanized. There is very little untouched open space left, but there are very many little villages. On the other hand, there is plenty of agricultural area between all those little villages.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

I meant agricultural areas, I don't know if that technically qualifies as open space (because its being used) but its not the form of sprawl that we're used to here.

by Canaan on Apr 10, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

@ xmal

can you say downward spiral?

At some point you've got a fleet of all electric cars, and no money to even maintain existing infrastructure.

That is almost certainly NOT the optimal solution.

If we want to charge vehicles for the congestion they cause, doesnt it make more sense to charge for the congestion, than for what is a proxy for congestion?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

It often goes relatively overlooked, but the diversity of this region isn't just ethnic, cultural, or socio-economic. It's also geography, topography, and several other factors that I could spend all day listing. You can expand the Greater Washington area to a size of the Netherlands, but that's still at least two state governments as well as DC. Meanwhile, that would still be a small piece of the country. I have no problems with "many of the proposals that GGW folks like" nor do I believe the Netherlands is a "bad model" in general, but I do have a problem with the idea that because something works there, it should work here without looking at why something is applied there and acknowledging differences.

by selxic on Apr 10, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

"Raising the gas tax is NOT necessarily an attempt to change culture or behavior. Re-read my post because that's my whole point. The discussion should be about raising funds for high returning infrastructure investments. NOT changing behavior and lifestyle as these commenters said:"

In general, pricing a good or service is neutral about financing or behavior change. Either the user finds the item to be more costly than its worth and stops using it, OR they pay the cost of using it. Pricing road services should be the same. Again, my only problem with using the gas tax alone is that it doesnt actually price road usage, since its impact is very different on different vehicles all of which use the road as much. (one could use it to charge for the externalities of using oil, but then why only on transportation vehicles, and not on all petroleum usage? And if the externality we are concerned with is not only the security impact of oil imports, but the climate change impact of fossil fuels, why tax oil and not coal?)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity: "And if the externality we are concerned with is not only the security impact of oil imports, but the climate change impact of fossil fuels, why tax oil and not coal?"

Well, you probably know the answer to this question, but of course we tried to do just that at the federal. It turns out that Congress refuses to pass such a tax. It's significantly harder to implement at the state level than just a simple gas tax, so here we are.

by Gray on Apr 10, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

fears about electic cars are overblown, and there are any number of systems can could be easily set up to capture that revenue.

Again, we are talking small increases Moving the federal gas tax up to a dollar -- which would be much larger than anything on the table -- would be very unoticable if spread over a 7 year period.

What is more important that the acutal amount is knowledge that gas taxes would go up in the future, so it controls future buying behavior.

by charlie on Apr 10, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

I know it is a painful and inconvenient truth, but this still is a democracy of sorts and there was just an election in Maryland. GGW's fair haired boy got slaughtered.

I'm not sure how much annoying Republican Robin Ficker's taunts of "Gas Tax Garagiola" hurt him, but they didn't help.

Raising any tax in an election year has political risks, and the guess here is that a good number of Democrats saw what happened to Garagiola and decided to either do the politically expedient thing or heed the wishes of the people who put them there (depending on how you look at it) when it came to a sizeable increase in the gasoline tax.

by Mike S. on Apr 10, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

@gray

yeah, I think I know why we are where we are. I just want to plug VMT charging, and tolling, which are more logical approaches to charging for road usage and are more and more feasible.

I wouldnt necessarily eliminate all gas taxes - as you imply, they are a good "second best" approach to GHGs given the current political impossibility of a carbon tax - but I suspect for that purpose they may be close to high enough for that purpose now, esp when combined with a VMT tax and/or more tolling. Trying to deal with the entire infrastructure problem through the gas tax alone does present a real downward spiral issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

Since the sales tax went up by 1% on O'Malley's watch but the gas tax has not, I would have been satisfied if this year O'Mally had simply proposed extending that 1% to gasoline, while billing it as correcting an oversight from the previous sales tax hike.

Next year, they have to get serious about Purple Line funding (maybe Red Line funding as well), so I'm hoping they simply come up with a package of taxes designed to fund those facilities. That probably means a much smaller gas tax, along with a collection of other sources which might require pushing the envelope a bit (e.g. a modest property tax on land near--but not directly bordering--the Purple Line, GARVEE bonds secured by federal funds for the first five years after the ICC GARVEE bonds are paid, a surcharge or tax on parking within a few miles of the Purple Line, and an end to free parking at the MARC stations)

by Jim T on Apr 10, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

@ selxic:I do have a problem with the idea that because something works there, it should work here without looking at why something is applied there and acknowledging differences.

I don't think that's what's going on. There are differences. Huge differences. But that does not mean that Americans can not learn from the Dutch (and Danes, and Brits, and Belgians, etc), just like those folks have learned a lot from the US.

People say things like: The economy can not work with gas prices/taxes over $4/gal. All I do then is point out that the economy is running pretty well in a bunch of countries where gas is going for $8/gal. Does that mean that the US can increase the gas tax with $4/gal? Of course not. But it does show that things can work with higher gas taxes.

I should point out that I am not the driver of many of the Dutch stuff here. It's the writers here that bring up biking, woonerven and Hans Monderman. I just try to keep the facts straight and provide extra facts (it helps that I can read Dutch).

@ Canaan:I meant agricultural areas

True. Despite the minute size of the country, the Dutch are one of the largest agricultural exporters in the world.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the response, Jasper. It was a genuine question. I think we agree that it's important to learn from examples instead of simply applying what is done elsewhere (DC bike lanes have been a mixture of both).

by selxic on Apr 10, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

some excellent discussion on the gas tax, but I would like to bring up the issue of the Bethesda lot closure. Hopefully people will take transit into town, but I think it is also time to re-think how the Bethesda Circulator works. Few people, in my estimation, use the service because it isn't really connecting to the populations that go to Downtown Bethesda or Woodmont Triangle. If there could be some way for it to shuttle people in and out of downtown from surrounding neighborhoods I think it might be more useful.

by thesixteenwords on Apr 10, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

@jasper
One of the differences between the US and Netherlands is the overall size of the country. Many people worried about rising gas prices are worried because in a country the size of the US most goods are trucked from one place to another. In a country this size a rise in gas prices can mean much higher prices for goods across the board.

by Melissa on Apr 10, 2012 4:30 pm • linkreport

@ Melissa: One of the differences between the US and Netherlands is the overall size of the country.

But we generally do not discuss national matter here, just local stuff.

Many people worried about rising gas prices are worried because in a country the size of the US most goods are trucked from one place to another. In a country this size a rise in gas prices can mean much higher prices for goods across the board.

That would be valid if you assume small countries in Europe do not engage in international trade. Except that they do. In fact, there's this little organization called the EU to facilitate international trade. And this single currency thingie called the euro.

Also, Rotterdam is the second largest harbor in the world (d@mn those commies in Shanghai!) and it functions pretty much as the harbor of the German Ruhr area. If you drive on the highways emanating from Rotterdam, unfunny large amounts of trucks drive by. Like in this Google Street image of the A15 in Rotterdam (swing back to see more trucks).


View Larger Map

All those truck are riding on those high gas prices.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2012 6:31 pm • linkreport

As I recall, something around 90% of freight in Europe is transported by truck. This is a much higher percentage than in the US, in part because our rail network is geared towards freight while the European rail network is geared towards passenger travel.

So Melissa, this just goes back to Jasper's earlier point that it's still possible with higher gas prices. We just fail to see that here in the US because the ongoing thought process is that we want infrstructure but don't want to pay for it.

by Froggie on Apr 11, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

@Froggie; while trucks provide a high percentage of European freight, at least in germany there is a huge amount moved in canals.

by charlie on Apr 11, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

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