Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Proposed Reston Transportation Tax is a Fraud


“The simplest explanation is usually the best one.”  Occam’s Razor

For the better part of a year, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has been trying to persuade a group of Restonians called the Reston Network Analysis Group (RNAG) appointed by Supervisor Hudgins that some or all of Reston homeowners need to pay an added tax to improve the road networks around the Metrorail stations.   

The need to improve the roads and intersections, FCDOT says, is obvious because of all the development that will be going on around these station areas in the decades ahead and, of course, Restonians should pay at least a share for those road improvements.  In fact, FCDOT continues, we have the model established in Tysons were residents are paying added taxes to help defray the costs of roadway improvements there. 

FCDOT is so convinced of the importance of Restonians paying an added property tax to help cover the cost of these improvements that it has offered up no less than ELEVEN different tax scenarios for the resident RNAG to consider.  

All of these 11 scenarios somehow relate to how the taxes at Tysons were developed, which is irrelevant to Reston unless, unbeknownst to us, whatever features the Tysons’ model(s) have are written on a stone tablet and brought down from the mountain top.   What about the models for other redevelopment areas such as Baileys Crossroads, Seven Corners, or the linear Highway 1 re-do in Mt. Vernon?  Reston is, in fact, its own beast with its own features, needs, opportunities, issues, and goals—and it is unclear that any of these characteristics are the same as they are in Tysons.   Yet FCDOT and RNAG have never taken a minute to examine these issues.  FCDOT has just presumed that whatever fits in Tysons will fit in Reston.  

Moreover, all eleven scenarios are complex involving different types of improvements, share splits between public and private (which, of course, don’t line up with citizens normal understanding of those two terms), residential versus commercial, and so on.  The only reason to introduce all these complications is to confuse the issue of who should pay for the roadway improvements by focusing on irrelevant issues.  It is very much like a three-card Monte or shell game:  Introduce a lot of motion (or commotion) and re-direct attention to confuse the mark. 

The bottom line is that there is no compelling reason that Restonians should pay any added property or other taxes whether through a tax service district (TSD) covering the transit station areas (TSAs) or a special tax district (STD—a la the Reston Community Center STD) covering all Reston. 

Using Occam’s razor, that a simple, straightforward explanation is the best one, we believe the best answer to financing the needed roadway improvements is, “Those who benefit financially from the Reston roadway improvements should contribute financially to their implementation.”  There are three parties to this effort:  The County, the developers, and the residents.

  • The County will benefit financially from new property tax and other tax flows (eg—sales tax revenues from new retail businesses) created by the new development in the TSAs.
  • The developers will benefit to the tune of billions of dollars from the added rent income from their new development as well as the continuing profits from existing development.
  • The residents will receive absolutely no financial benefit.
In contrast, Reston’s residents are guaranteed to see worse transportation capabilities.  FCDOT has guaranteed this by setting a lower standard for managing peak traffic flows that will not only hurt those who live in the TSAs, but those Restonians and others who travel to or through them.  Moreover, they are also guaranteed worse local bus transit service because FCDOT states that it will not increase local bus service, just move the existing routes around.  So, yes, the goal of the County is to make moving around Reston more difficult, but it still it wants to charge some or all Restonians a tax for this more limited capability.

The only reasonable and honest rationale for the new Reston transportation tax—again, using Occam’s Razor to look for a simple, straightforward explanation—is that the County Board wants to create a new property tax revenue stream that it can adjust, meaning increase, at its prerogative anytime indefinitely.   

In short, the elaborate financial calculations and manipulations by the FCDOT for the RNAG are simply a ruse—a straight-up fraud—to create a new property tax revenue stream for the County that is unlikely to be spent in full in Reston and will definitely make Reston mobility more difficult.  

Act to stop it while you can.   Write to: 


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