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Morning Notes

by Katie Pyzyk — February 26, 2013 at 8:50 am 1,128 49 Comments

Gate at Bluemont Park

Pentagon City Mall Renovations — Coming on the heels of the news that Ballston Common Mall will be getting a revamp, the owners of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City announced plans to renovate that mall as well. Although no formal plan has been revealed, changes could include adding office space or apartments. Renovations for the 24-year-old mall would be paid for out of a pot of about $1 billion that Simon Property Group Inc. has set aside for updating its properties. [Washington Business Journal]

Fire Hydrant Color Meaning — Arlington doesn’t have one standard color for fire hydrants; instead, the county adopted a coloring system in the 1990s indicating the flow of water at each particular hydrant. Blue hydrants have water flow above 1,500 gallons per minute (gpm), green is between 1,000 and 1,500 gpm, orange is 500 to 1,000 gpm and red is below 500 gpm. The color scheme allows firefighters to quickly determine if one hydrant will be enough to fight a fire, or if a water relay system is necessary. [Washington Post]

More Signs Requested for Westover Market — Organizers of the Westover Market believe a drop in attendance occurred for the new winter market because of the county’s sign restrictions. There has been a drop of up to 90 percent, according to organizers, and they believe the attendance would be greater if they were allowed to post more signs advertising the market. The County Board asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to investigate the issue. [Sun Gazette]

Library Hosts Croatian Ambassador — The Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) will host a celebration of Croatia tonight featuring music, food, cultural displays and a visit from Croatian Ambassador Joško Paro. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. [Arlington Public Library]

Hybrid Tax Petition — Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Scott Surovell launched a petition to get Gov. Bob McDonnell to eliminate the so-called hybrid tax in the newly passed transportation bill. Under the bill, drivers of hybrid vehicles would have to pay a $100 fee each year. McDonnell said he’d review that portion of the bill. [NBC 4]

  • ph7

    Its’ been cold as balls the past few Sundays; not conducive to strolling past outdoor hawkers. And, c’mon, who wants gross gourmet donuts and like 5 different bakers, when Heidelberg, Randolphs, and others are a mile away? (Note: donut eaters are not the first to stroll outdoors in 30 degree weather). Too many bread products, not enough variety; and the brick & mortar Westover Market 20 yards away has the best local butcher around, so why buy from the outsiders? We have great local bakers and butchers and coffee shops in and around Westover, so my preference is to support them first. The true value of the Westover Farmer’s market is the fresh local produce, which is only available in the summer and fall market. There is no real local substitute for that.

    It’s not a sign issue.

    • drax

      I don’t agree with all your shopping choices, but I agree that it’s a function of the weather, not signs. Most people probably don’t even know it’s open in winter, because who has a farmer’s market in winter?

  • John Fontain

    “drivers of hybrid vehicles would have to pay a $100 fee each year.”

    My understanding of this additional fee for hybrid and electric vehicles is that it is designed to ensure that their owners pay their fare share to the state for maintenance of roads, given that they currently don’t pay as much towards maintenance as conventional engine owners.

    Logically speaking, this makes sense. But I can understand hybrid drivers not wanting to pay their fare share. After all, why would anyone want to pay for something when other people could be (and have been) paying it for them?

    • ph7

      Because government routinely uses tax policy to induce certain behavior (home mortgage deduction, child tax credit, first time home buyer credit in DC, etc.). Hybrid vehicles have higher initial cost, but lower burden on all taxpayers (they add less carbon to clean up, they are lighter, so they impact road maintenance less, etc.). Some of that is rewarded by the lower gas taxes paid by the hybrid user, but not all of the benefit.

      The fight is over two competing principles:

      1. Should hybrid users pay their fair share?

      2. Should gov’t give a tax break to encourage certain behavior – encouraging more fuel efficient vehicles?

      Most policymakers and citizens say yes to both, but debate what is the fair share, and how much of an incentive should be given to induce change . It’s not a simple freeloading question as you imply. But this is a stupid chat room, where nuance is discouraged and yelling platitudes is a substitute for thought.

      • novasteve

        By that logic, shouldn’t leftist governments use the tax system to penalize people who have kids, rather than give them tax breaks since their kids will be polluters and will contribute to global warming, produce litter, cause the death of animals and plants to feed them?

        • ph7

          Probably, but the conventional logic is that children produce consumers and future taxpayers, so it’s a net plus to the tax system.

          • drax

            Yeah, I think the assumption that children are a net good is a pretty good one to have.

          • novasteve

            Conventional logic is wrong given how fewer and fewer people will be productive in the future because of the dumbind down of the education system of the desire to make more people reliant on government. There will be fewer productive taxpayers in the future, all just to keep a certain party in power.

          • malaka

            That’s the most ridiculous argument you have made to date – and it has some pretty stiff competition! So education was better when ? Feudal times? inter war years? and people were less dependent on government then? Typical delusions of bitter people who yearn for a time that never actually existed.

          • novasteve

            The education system is terrible now. They keep on lowering standards. Even without computers and the internet they were able to educate better in the past, and that’s due to valuing education/work ethic. Why do you think that jobs that never required a college degree in the past now require one? It’s because both high school and college degrees have be en devalued.

        • But then…

          But it’s not all about the environment. Just look at Japan for a prime example of the problems a nation can have when people stop having kids. Their economy’s in trouble due to the lack of upcoming wager earners (/tax payers), and it’s only going to get worse.

          • novasteve

            Japan will still be better off than some place that has a lot of non productive youths and lots of violence.

      • John Fontain

        ph7 said: “Hybrid vehicles…are lighter, so they impact road maintenance less, etc.”

        Curb weights (2013 models):

        Toyota Prius (hybrid) 3,042 lbs
        Toyota Corolla (non-hybrid) 2,734 lbs
        Toyota Matrix (non-hybrid) 2,844 lbs

        ph7 also said: “But this is a stupid chat room, where nuance is discouraged and yelling platitudes is a substitute for thought.”

        You said it, not me.

        • DCBuff

          You beat me to it John. Just to add: Ford Focus (non-hybrid) 2920 lbs; VW Golf TDI 2994 lbs. I guess those Prius owners should pay more as they impact road maintenance more. Are hybrids still allowed to run the HOV lanes with only one person in the car? That alone is worth the $100.

          • http://twitter.com/paulwilsonarch PaulWilsonArchitect

            Hybrids (anything classified as so-called “alternative fuel” by DMV) also receive double the car tax rebate of ordinary vehicles.

        • ph7

          Okay, back to the nuance. The cars you listed qualify as a “compact car” under standard classifications (avg weight for class)-

          Compact car 2,979 pounds
          Midsize car 3,497 pounds

          http://cars.lovetoknow.com/List_of_Car_Weights

          So I guess I’m missing your point. Are some non-hybirds lighter than the Prius? Sure. Is the weight of the vast majority of the US car fleet lower for hybrids? Absolutely. Statistical outliers don’t make good arguments.

          DCBuff, the VW Golf TDI is a great car, BTW, and yields better gas mileage than some hybrids. Diesel also is better on carbon, but worse on particulate. If this was not also an outlier, you’d have a good point.

          • John Fontain

            ph7 said: “So I guess I’m missing your point.”

            To put it in simple terms, you were wrong.

      • Jeff

        Hybrid cars are not lighter. In fact, their battery packs are extremely heavy (not to mention the manufacturing process is very environmentally detrimental). The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid weighs 3,615 lbs. The most efficient non-hybrid 2013 Ford Fusion weighs 3,333 lbs. I should note that the heaviest 2013 Ford Fusion is the AWD version with the top-of-the-line engine, coming in at 3,681 lbs – however, the AWD systems are intrinsically heavier than you’d find on a standard 2WD system that the Hybrid uses.

    • Max

      By that logic, gas should cost twice as much.

      • drax

        Exactly.

      • ph7

        Or, as Libertarians argue, every road should be a toll road, preferably privately owned. A hat tip to McDonnell from resisting these Ayn Randians and pushing the transportation tax bill through…

        • Libertarian

          Not good enough. Why should I pay more because I’m going 2 miles down that road but others are only going 1 mile! I demand a toll booth every 100 yards!

      • John Fontain

        Max, please explain.

        • ph7

          I’ll explain for him. The Gas Tax underfunds transportation costs. If users paying a “fair share” of transportation costs is what you want, gas taxes should be much higher per gallon. Right now, additional funding comes from general revenues, which is inherently not usage based, and taxes people who may rarely or never use roads (subways commuters in Clarendon paying income tax, for instance).

          • John Fontain

            ph7, let’s assume this is what Max meant. Then Max and you are saying that conventional engine car owners don’t directly contribute (via the gas tax) enough to cover road maintenance, right?

            And given that we know that hybrid engine car owners consume even less gas (all other factors being the same), then they directly contribute (via the gas tax) an even more deficient share of their cost of road maintenance, right?

            So conventional engine owners’ direct contributions are “deficient” and hybrid engine owners’ direct contributions are even “more deficient.”

            So if we are really looking for “nuance” and critical thinking, what is wrong with trying to partially correct the “more deficient” direct contribution?

          • speonjosh

            I believe you are starting from at least one faulty assumption. One of those would be the assumption that gas taxes are intended to fully fund road maintenance. I am not sure that this is the case.

            And at least one failure to define your terms – namely, ‘fair share.” What does that mean?
            Let me make one assumption about how you are defining “fair share.” There is a sum of money, X, which is required to maintain all of Virginia’s state-owned roads each year. This sum is to be raised by a gas tax. There are Y users of Virginia’s roads. We will define “fair share” as X/Y. Am I right as to your general definition? So each user of Virginia’s roads is supposed to pay, each year, X/Y dollars in gas taxes?

          • cyclist

            One thing’s for sure – some jerk in a car will yell at somebody on a bike that they aren’t paying for the roads, even though only half of road expenses are paid for with gas taxes and tolls these days.

          • Jeff

            Keep in mind, subway commuters (and anyone without a car) still require significant use of roadways. Any good they purchase is transported at least partially by road. I guarantee you the place from which you purchase that item bakes the gas tax into the prices. I’m not sure which argument that helps, but it is something one often forgets in these discussions.

            In the end, if the gas tax is really intended to cover (at least partially) maintenance of our road system, the only “fair” way to do it is logistically impossible since there’s just far too many variables contributing to wear including road surface material, weather, weight of the vehicle passing over it, size of the tires of the vehicle, tread pattern, and more. The closest to fair we likely could do is some type of mileage rate which varies for different ranges of gross vehicle weight. Even that has many logistical and privacy flaws, like figuring out how to actually determine real mileage driven. That left us with a gas tax as the only truly reasonable way of taxing usage. It used to actually be very fair. There is still variation for the taxation per mile or taxation for actual wear on the system, but it was close since generally heavier vehicles cause more wear and get worse mileage – therefore it sort of balanced out.

            The challenge we’re now seeing is as vehicles become more efficient, it reduces the amount of tax that can be collected for the same actual wear on the roads. The simple solution would be to simply marginally raise the gas tax – but that becomes an even greater challenge as our vehicle fleet is beginning to shy away from gasoline as its source of propulsion. I would not be surprised to see major overhauls to the method of transportation taxation in the next decade.

          • speonjosh

            Well said.
            The problem is that there are additional societal benefits to more efficient automobiles. If we raise taxes on those automobiles, you run the risk of discouraging their use, which would mean we would lose out on those benefits. I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if the value of those positive externalities outweighs any “loss” in gas tax revenue from vehicles that get better gas mileage.

          • B_Lee_D

            VA requires annual inspection, so couldn’t the vehicle’s mileage be recorded by the inspector and sent to the state which would then send you a bill?

          • speonjosh

            No.
            1. Privacy
            2. Who is to say you drove those miles in Virginia?

          • Jeff

            Agreed on both counts – although #2 is also somewhat of an issue if you’re just passing through a state but you needed to buy gas there. Law of averages there, I guess. The biggest problem I would see is the number of vehicles that avoid inspections (legally or not) – you’d lose the tax revenue for those vehicles, even though they are being driven. I don’t know what the magnitude of that situation is though.

    • speonjosh

      What is “fair share?”
      Since when does the gas tax 100% fund road repair?
      What about motorcycles? They get 50+ MPH. Should they pay a fee, too?
      Isn’t using less gas a good thing for society? Logically speaking, wouldn’t we want to encourage behaviors that benefit society as a whole?

      • Jeff

        Agreed. The challenge is balancing a funded transportation system with increased fuel economy and someone’s idea of “fair.” As I mentioned in another comment on this thread, the only truly fair way is to pay for the wear you actually cause – which is logistically impossible. Barring that, we’ll be in never ending arguments over what’s really fair.

      • Abe Froman

        Motorcycles weigh a couple hundred pounds and most are single rider most of the time, typically while a small car is going to weigh 1500 lbs pr more and carry more than one passenger far more often. The difference is substantial.

        Given that the average gasoline driven vehicle pays well more than $100 a year in gas taxes, the $100 fee is fairly reasonably and doesn’t bite into the ROI on a hybrid very much. I mean given the panacea that hybrids are, making up another $100 in gas saving should be a matter of a couple hundred miles of travel.

    • Hybrid Owner

      The problem with this is that it isn’t usage based. I have a hybrid, but I almost never drive it since I live close to the Orange line and can and do walk to nearly everything I need. So suppose I drive 5K mi./yr. … I’m paying the same as someone driving 15K mi./yr. (or more)? When non-hybrid drivers are paying tax based on actual use?

      Obviously I’m somewhat biased, but it seems to me like we’re actively discouraging behaviors that we should be encouraging.

      • DCBuff

        I see your point. I, too, live close to the O line and drive about 5k miles per year. My non-hybrid car gets decent mileage. A hybrid driving your hypothetical 15k MPY uses more gas and therefore pollutes more. So, why should that hybrid owner get the tax and other breaks (HOV access) and not me?

        • Hybrid Owner

          You DO get those tax breaks as you’re not paying all that extra gas tax. 5K/yr. with reasonable mileage is going to be a much smaller gas bill than 15K/yr. with a hybrid. That’s why a usage-based tax (i.e. gas tax) makes sense.

          And HOV might be nice, but many hybrid owners don’t use it. In fact I’d ague that the vast majority of hybrid owners statewide do not as it can only be used on a handful of roads in all of VA. Also remember that the clean fuel plate required to access HOV lanes costs extra, so you don’t get access by merely owning a hybrid.

          • DCBuff

            Huh? How is a tax I don’t pay because I’m not making a purchase qualify as a “tax break?” I agree with a gas tax, and don’t like at all the raising of the sales tax. As for HOV, no doubt few ArlCo hybrid owners use that regularly, so they don’t have to buy that clean fuel plate.

  • novasteve

    The wapo has an article about the alleged unconstitutionality of the different tax rates for different areas of VA. I didn’t read it, but certain areas already tax at different rates for certain things like restaurant taxes, depending upon whether you are a city or county, etc.

  • john deere

    Hey HYBRIDS… put another person in the car!!!

    • ph7

      Everyone should put another person in their car. But until old single driver paradigm sold and marketed for decades (and currently promoted by the public transportation haters) changes, let’s at least be thankful that that single driver is pumping less carbon into your atmosphere.

  • Wayne Kubicki

    $1 billion will NOT be spent by Simon at Pentagon City – that figure is Simon’s annual overall new construction/renovation budget for their entire portfolio.

    • speonjosh

      Thought that seemed rather large. Unless they were going to pave the aisles with gold tiles….

    • Ballstonian

      Thanks for clarifying that. But — and I really hate to have to point this out — you forgot to preface your remakrs with, “Simon says . . . ” :-)

  • Jane

    Why are all the comments now hidden? Every article states that there are zero comments.

  • Hybrid Owner

    I don’t know why nobody seems to be posting a link to the actual petition. For anyone interested:

    https://services.myngp.com/ngponlineservices/petition.aspx?X=4hC0RDTN%2bv4%3d

  • Abe Froman

    I tend to agree with the hybrid tax as proposed. Hybrids use the roads, create wear and tear and subvert the funding of the maintenance on those roads by not using much/any gas, while getting their energy from someplace other than a source which funds the road system maintenance.

  • sno

    I am a big supporter of farmer’s markets, but at this time of year , I go down to Dupont, where the market is still vibrant and there is a great assortment of what the season has to offer- root vegetables, winter greens…I will come back to Westover when spring rolls around.

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