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Breakfast links: Bad people

Photo by cainmark.
Kornheiser disciple?: A driver on First St NW suddenly approached a cyclist with its horn continuously honking, hit the cyclist, got out of the car, yelled at the cyclist, then drove off. (TheWashCycle)

Not top employee: A group of guys harassed a young woman at Union Station Metro... including a Metro employee. (Holla Back DC)

Not really "mixed use": Prince William County has rezoned some agricultural land for "suburban residential" development. The WBJ headline says "mixed-use development" and the lede calls it a "pedestrian friendly community," but the only mixed-ness seems to be a school. It's nice if people can walk to school, but sorry, a bunch of suburban houses is not a "walkable, mixed-use development." (WBJ)

Traffic tests like a hydra: Montgomery Council staff tried to stop White Flint again by re-imposing a traffic test, where if White Flint slowed any traffic down outside White Flint, it couldn't proceed. But the Council deleted it from its agenda following strong opposition. (FLOG)

No I-80 tolls, no money: USDOT has refused to let Pennsylvania toll I-80 to raise money to repair roads and maintain transit. Robert Puentes says we need to change the outmoded laws. Ryan Avent says we can't afford to keep ignoring tolls as a solution to transportation financing. (TNR, The Bellows)

MD cuts repair, rejects transit "poison pill": The Maryland legislature has reached a deal on the budget, including major cuts to road repair funds for counties (Post) ... The conference committee rejected the provision to force restudy of the Purple Line and Baltimore Red Line as heavy rail, which would have likely killed both projects. (Baltimore Sun, Ben Ross)

No cuts, more from jurisdictions, peak of the peak: According to WMATA's report on the public hearings, large majorities of riders oppose service cuts and want jurisdictions to contribute more. There was also strong support in the online survey for the "peak of the peak" fare, which is probably technically feasible in time, but it's not absolutely clear. (WMATA, Examiner, Post)

Bronrott going federal: Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-Bethesda) is leaving his seat to join the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Bronrott was a big safety advocate, pushing fro more money for pedestrian safety for kids to and from schools, renaming "accidents" to "crashes", and much more. (Getting There)

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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The problem I have with I-80 tolls in Pennsylvania is that the state would essentially be charging twice for the road.

The usual toll road model is one in which a state takes out bonds to build the road, then uses tolls to pay them back (then continues tolls if they need it to keep up the road). In other words, no taxes involved.

Then on the other hand, you have the usual road-building model: state and/or federal funds that come from taxes.

So as soon as Pennsylvania reimburses federal taxpayers and its own citizens for the money it's already spent to build and maintain the road, then pledges not to use taxpayer money again to maintain the road, I'm fine with tolling it.

Essentially, you're going to have to decide whether you want to pay for something with a user fee or a tax. Pick one.

by Tim on Apr 9, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

That attack on the cyclist seems so surreal. Doesn't seem credible.

by Lance on Apr 9, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

The I-80 case prompts the interesting question: which do Republicans hate more, taxes or the federal government? On the one hand, the big bad feds are bullying states, limiting their revenue options. On the other hand, it limits the state's ability to impose user fees. Would states' rights conservatives support a proposal to allow state tolling of interstate highways, at the state's sole discretion?

by Gavin on Apr 9, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

But there were 7 witnesses, Lance...

by NikolasM on Apr 9, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

And a big part of the I-80 toll (Northern Part of State) was going to go to the two big cities - Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for Public Transit. Look at a map and look where I-80 runs and then look where Philadelphia is.

by Philly on Apr 9, 2010 10:32 am • linkreport

I thought the same thing about the attack, but far stranger things have happened. There is a lot of rage out there.

Avent makes a powerful argument for taxing externalities. Brilliant. Here's some more: we should tax people for pollution they create by breathing (personal carbon tax?), for the garbage they make (big bag fee tax), tax stupid people more for slowing everyone down, tax ugly people for being ugly, tax beautiful people for making us jealous....oh wait....we have an easy way to raise taxes for roads. It is called the gas tax, but nobody wants to touch that.

Taxing I-80 is about hitting out of state drivers who come throw PA -- rather than PA residents taxing themselves for improving their own roads. That isn't about externalities, it is about political courage.

And much like hypothecated taxes, it turns out greedy politicians will take any stream of revenue and use it to fill budget holes. CF MD taking the revenue from the gas tax meant to fix roads. And those budget holes are people.

We need a serious debate about investing more in pensions and salaries for state employees vs. infrastructure. We need a serious debate about whether we need to charge more for trucks, who pollute more and do more damage to roads. I'd love to see a debate on taxing oversized trucks, who slow traffic down so much.

But calling the debate about tolling I-80 "externalities' is just dressing up a pig with new lipstick. It's about how to make out-of staters (and non-voters) pay for our new stuff.

by charlie on Apr 9, 2010 10:32 am • linkreport

Here's what I wrote on Ryan Avent's blog about the I-80 case:

The I-80 case, IMO, was a case of Pennsylvania being greedy and wanting to use I-80 as a cash cow. ThatÂ’s not the way to go about doing business, IMO. Believe me, I understand the point about needing to fund transportation infrastructure, but for two counterpoints, first consider that I-80 (as with most Interstate mileage) was paid for via gas taxes (all the issues with non-transportation-based taxes paying for highways is mainly at the local and county levelÂ…recent transfers to shore up the HTF notwithstanding, it doesnÂ’t occur at the Federal level).

But the second, and bigger, counterpoint relates to the cash cow comment from earlier. This is where the bulk of the oppositon came from, not to mention it being against the Federal law that allowed pilot cases of tolling previously-free Interstates. Siphoning off I-80 tolls for projects in regions far away from where I-80 travels does not benefit the areas along I-80, and is arguably a “transfer of wealth”. At least with the Turnpike tolls, one could make the argument that the Turnpike travels through the Pittsburgh and Philly metro areas. Not so with I-80 (which is about 60 miles from Pittsburgh and over 100 miles from Philly).

IÂ’ve maintained from the get-go that if Pennsylvania had applied for I-80 tolls to ONLY BE USED on I-80, as allowed by Federal law, it would have received more support and been approved long ago. True it wouldnÂ’t have been the big bucks that the state gambled on (and lost). But it would have freed up some gas tax money for PennDOT to apply elsewhere.

by Froggie on Apr 9, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

Essentially, you're going to have to decide whether you want to pay for something with a user fee or a tax. Pick one.

You say this as if "The Gummit" wasn't an aggregation of the collective will of the voters. Your preferences notwithstanding, a toll imposed by Pennsylvanian voters is either legal, or illegal. If it's found to be legal by the courts, then they'll do what they think is politically acceptable.

I think this point needs a bit of clarification, too:

It turns out greedy politicians will take any stream of revenue and use it to fill budget holes.

Those greedy politicians! Given the fact that most states and municipalities have passed some form of that fiscal suicide pact known as the "balanced budget amendment" what exactly is the alternative here? I mean, other than turning off the lights and going Galt?

by oboe on Apr 9, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

Is the government shutting down the government technically "going galt?"

I was using "greedy" for emphasis, and it was the wrong choice. I think eleted politicans should be able to use any revenue for any purpose, and this silly idea of "funds", "fees" and what not is just ninnery.

From a tax policy perspective, having a broad tax base is wise -- one problem with dedicated fees is small changes can result in that fee going south. If that fee is just being put into general revenue, that's fine, it is being used to fund specific programs, well, those programs go south quickly.

by charlie on Apr 9, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

@NikolasM But there were 7 witnesses, Lance...

And not a single one among them was able to get the plate number. At least the got the description of the vehicle.

by Lance on Apr 9, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

charlie wrote: Here's some more: we should tax people for pollution they create by breathing (personal carbon tax?)

Can we quash this ridiculous notion once and for all? Go back to high school biology and learn about respiration, and then think about how that's different from carbon stored in fossil fuels.

by MLD on Apr 9, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

@ charlie: this silly idea of "funds", "fees" and what not is just ninnery

Just wanted to mention that sometimes we agree. All income should go into the treasury and elected politicians should be able to do with it as they please. And if they don't please the citizens, then they'll be thrown out of office.

Unfortunately, there's two assumptions there that are (currently) not valid. First, that politicians are reasonable folks working for the public. Second, that citizens are reasonable folks who vote for said reasonable politicians.

by Jasper on Apr 9, 2010 11:29 am • linkreport

I-80 tolls would be about getting the northern part of the state to pony up some funding. Currrently people in the southern part of the state pay huge tolls to take the PA Turnpike, subsidizing everybody else. These tolls do more than pay for the PA Turnpike. Why shouldn't I-80 pay its fair share? There is a massive amount government infrastructure that has been built along I-80. It's time to cut them off.

by aaa on Apr 9, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@ Lance: Click the link and read the comments on WashCycle. They got a partial tag number and a good decription of the car.

by stacey2545 on Apr 9, 2010 12:39 pm • linkreport

@Jasper; I view politicians as people we elect to lie to us. And while I get frustrated with them as well, making it difficult to raise taxes is a feature, not a bug.

@AAA; Yes, tolling I-80 is unpopular because the local people don't want to pay tolls. But the target was always trucking companies. The proposal was for $95 for trucks crossing the state. Have you been on I-80? There is nothing there. This isn't revenue transfer or revenue sharing.

The real issue there is why it costs $2.5 billion to repair a road.

And that is the nasty issue of both the costs of public employees (salaries, benefits and pensions) and also the wonderful little corrupt world of road building contracts.

There is an interesting debate because 1) trucks do a tremendous amount of damage to roads and 2) the gas tax doesn't work on a state level because you can drive to the next state and fill-up. i-80 in PA is about 300 miles long, and a typical semi could get form NJ to OH without stopping for gas in PA.

by charlie on Apr 9, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: making it difficult to raise taxes is a feature, not a bug.

A useless feature as long as spending is easier than raising taxes. You end up with irresponsible politicians that just spend and leave the debt to their successors and children. Cutting taxes in good times has the same effect on bad times.

Furthermore, it doesn't matter whether you call it taxes, fees, fines or leases. They're all gov't income. If it talks, walks and swims like a duck, it's a duck. If it costs money, goes to the government and you never see it back, it's a tax.

The question should not be to tax or not to tax. The question is what to do with the taxed money. Returning it to citizens is an underused option. Paying of debt is another.

In the end, I am happy we found a way to disagree on this ;-)

by Jasper on Apr 9, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

A group of guys harassed a young woman at Union Station Metro... including a Metro employee.

I had to read this three times before I figured out what you were trying to say. Although I'm sure you were trying to avoid the passive tense, this phrasing is better:

A young woman was harassed at Union Station Metro by a group of guys... including a Metro employee.

by wmata on Apr 11, 2010 8:13 pm • linkreport

The turnpike has always been a toll road and has been upgraded numerous times. It has been rebuilt at least twice in my lifetime. I-80 and the rest of the interstates were meant to be free. Pre-interstate roads like the PA turnpike (which just raised its tolls), the Ohio Turnpike (which also has raised tolls) and the Indiana Toll Road were given interstate designation and grandfathered-in. If I-80 became a toll road, diversion of the money elsewhere would raise all kinds of political problems. The real subsidy is the development of the sprawlburbs. They're the ones who should be subsidizing Philly and Pittsy, not people in Clarion and Stroudsburg.

by Rich on Apr 11, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

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