N.Va. Asks for Legal Validation of Taxes, Fees

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority formally asked a court yesterday whether it has the legal authority to raise and spend more than $300 million worth of new taxes and fees.

The authority voted late Thursday to impose the taxes and fees to fund regional transportation projects. The revenue measures are slated to go into effect in January, but critics have questioned whether the state law that created the NVTA passes constitutional muster. The legal request, filed yesterday in Arlington Circuit Court, asks a judge to quickly rule on the authority's right to raise taxes across the region.

Authority members said the Virginia attorney general's office has said the NVTA is on solid legal ground. Nonetheless, said David F. Snyder, a Falls Church council member and an NVTA member, "we wanted to do the special proceeding that allowed objections to be heard so we don't jeopardize bond ratings or have to stop multimillion-dollar projects in their tracks or rebate tax payments."

He said the board hopes that court cases and appeals are decided by the beginning of next year.

The legal action is one of several fronts the authority will be advancing this year. The hope is that once legal challenges are completed, the authority will be able to move quickly on revenue, administrative and policy issues.

Members say they are looking to January as a target date for imposing the new taxes and fees, which include a real estate grantor's tax of 40 cents per $100 of value and new registration and auto fees.

The board will soon interview candidates for executive director and financial officer. The authority has been borrowing senior policy staffers from member jurisdictions.

The authority's attorneys also will continue preparing to issue $102 million in bonds to finance an initial group of 22 projects, which include a new Fairfax County Parkway interchange, widening of the Prince William Parkway and a rapid bus line through Arlington County and Alexandria.

The projects were chosen because design and right-of-way acquisition are complete or nearly so.

Board members will also work on selecting the next batch of projects by fall, part of a six-year spending plan that will be revised yearly.

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