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Arlington's transpo tax is safe, thanks to Va. Supreme Court

November 4, 2010 - 01:47 PM
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A special tax that funds transportation in Arlington will continue to be collected from commercial property owners, after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled  that the taxing mechanism is not unconstitutional in a decision released this morning.

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the Fairfax County circuit court's decision in the case of a Fairfax property owner, FFW Enterprises, against the Fairfax County government. FFW argued that the transportation tax was unconstitutional, and the circuit court ruled against the landowner.

The Nov. 4 decision [PDF], written by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, affirmed the lower court's ruling that the taxes — which all localities in Northern Virginia are permitted to levy under state law — are not unconstitutional.

Arlington currently charges the tax at the maximum allowable rate: 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation on commercial and industrial property owners. That funding is set aside for transportation improvements, including road projects and the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

Arlington County attorneys are still reviewing the decision, according to a spokesperson.

The ruling will likely mean that business groups will take another look at the taxes, which they originally supported when they were going to apply to all sectors of property owners. As Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Phil Keating points out, the chamber was less supportive of the taxes after a court decision in 1998 stripped out a number of the tax provisions that applied to residential and other sectors.

"The concern is that the commercial side is the only one left standing paying the tax," Keating says. "It's more an issue of fairness ... if it’s a project that benefits everyone, the funding should be shared by everyone."

The chamber is not advocating for the Arlington transportation tax to be repealed, he adds, but the group may look at the taxes as part of their annual discussion of a legislative package submitted to the county. The time is right, Keating says, now that the courts have disposed of the legal challenge.

"We’re going to talk about it more later this month, when we do a legislative package," Keating says. "It's one of the top items on the agenda in terms of what our position on it is."

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