Carney on “Abuser Fee” Abuse

Every other Friday, I open the Washington Examiner expecting to read Tim Carney, our good friend and former CEI Brookes Fellow,  exposing yet another tawdry example of the collusion between big business and big government to enrich themselves at your expense — so I was unpleasantly surprised to not see his column last Friday. But not to worry; the column’s been moved to Monday, and today Tim takes on Virginia’s hugely unpopular new traffic “fees,” which  present more than one opportunitiy for brazen rent seeking:

Reason magazine’s Radley Balko pointed out that the bill’s chief sponsor, Del. David Albo, R- Springfield, is a partner in a law firm specializing in traffic cases. The clear conflict of interest here is that Albo is legislating himself more clients. But the broader benefit of these draconian-seeming traffic laws will by far go to the developers.

For years, Virginia developers have been pouring millions of dollars into the coffers of Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates as well as referendum committees trying to secure dedicated sources of road funding. Developers provided most of the money behind the 2002 ballot initiative in Northern Virginia to raise sales taxes in order to pay for more roads…

What’s going on here…is an attempt by the developers to externalize their costs…

Albo’s bill not only directs all these special traffic fees to road building, but it empowers the regional highway authorities to raise taxes for the sake of roads. These authorities have long been on the wish list of Northern Virginia developers, who likely expect to turn them into cash cows.

The business model appears to work this way: A developer buys land in a place that’s not well served by roads because it is either too congested or inaccessible, which means the land will be sold at a discount. He then spends hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for state highway money to make his land more valuable so that he can then sell new homes for higher prices. You eventually have more roads, but because more people are using them, it’s just as congested — and you’re stuck with higher taxes.

Next time you’re stuck in traffic, ask yourself, “Cui bono”?