Washington, D.C., motorists can choose license plates that bear the motto “Taxation Without Representation.” There is good reason for this, as District residents are not empowered to vote in federal elections.
But the practice of taxing citizens who have no vote is not confined to the relatively tiny District. It extends throughout the Washington area, which seems to regard elected governing bodies as anathema. Virginia only recently began electing school boards, a few hundred years after the rest of the country.
It is also in Virginia that the latest taxation/representation struggle is brewing. This one involves a toll road, specifically the Dulles Airport Toll Road, originally built to speed busy bureaucrats and pompous potentates to and from the international airport roughly 30 miles from D.C.
Back in the day, no one was allowed to use the airport road unless they were going to and from the airport. Only in the Washington area would taxpayers stand for such an outrage but stand for it they did and now it may be too late, although a class action lawsuit seeks to rouse the dozing citizenry.
Eventually, scofflaws emerged and began tying up the highway, slowing the potentates' stately processions. Additional lanes were then built and opened up – at a price – to the federal drones and military contractors who now line the Dulles Corridor.
Initially operated by the relatively benign Commonwealth of Virginia, the highway charged token tolls of 25 to 75 cents. Ah, but this was before the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) – not to be confused with the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (MWATA) -- became imbued with the power and the glory that accompany unelected taxing bodies.
The members of these authorities are appointed by elected politicians from the jurisdictions over which they rule but the taxpaying public has no say whatsoever in the matter.
Thus, when it came to pass that MWAA and MWATA decreed that a Metro subway line should be extended to Dulles Airport, Virginia washed its hands of the entire affair and deeded the road to MWAA so that MWAA could extract the cost of building the subway line from the hides of those using the toll road.
Tolls, needless to say, are no longer 25 cents. They are currently $2.00 for those who travel the entire 13.5-mile length of the highway and rising regularly.
This, say John B. Corr and John W. Grigsby in their class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., has changed the very nature of the tolls extorted from motorists crawling along the congested eight-lane highway (while the bureaucrats and potentates zip by on four lanes still reserved only for those going to and from the aerodrome.)
Corr, a resident of Great Falls, Va., says in the suit that he has used the Dulles Toll Road from time to time for the last 15 years, paying his tolls in cash. Grigsby, a resident of Hillsboro, Va., has commuted daily on the toll road, paying his tolls via EZPass transponder.
No longer a toll
The toll, say Messrs. Corr and Grigsby, is no longer a toll, since it is no longer used simply to pay for the upkeep of the highway. They argue it is now a tax, being collected to pay for the construction of the Metro rail line.
And as a tax, it can only be levied by duly-elected representatives of the people, their suit argues.
The suit argues that, under the Virginia Constitution, the setting of rates or fees for a public service cannot be delegated to unelected, non-governmental bodies. As an interstate compact run by an unelected board, MWAA lacks the constitutional authority to tax the Commonwealth's citizens, says the suit.
The suit seeks to halt MWAA's continued collection of tolls that exceed the amount needed to maintain the highway and asks for a refund of all “excess” tolls collected since 2005.