A no-taxation-without-representation class action lawsuit was filed in Alexandria’s federal court Thursday challenging the authority of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to collect tolls on the Dulles Toll Road in excess of what’s needed for road operation and maintenance.
Virginia attorneys Robert Cynkar, Christopher Kachouroff and Patrick McSweeney sued MWAA on behalf of John Corr of Great Falls and John Grigsby, of Hillsboro, Va., both longtime residents of Virginia and toll road users.
Since the 13-member MWAA Board is made up of unelected political appointees who are not accountable to voters, it does not have the power to impose what amounts to a tax under either the Virginia or U.S. Constitutions, the lawsuit claims.
“The voters sent a very clear signal that they did not want to be taxed to fund the Metrorail Project,” the lawsuit points out, “In November 2002, a referendum to impose a sales and use tax in Northern Virginia that would produce $350 million for the Metrorail Project was voted down.”
In 2005, the Commonwealth Transportation Board “began the practice of converting what is supposed to be a legitimate user fee into a tax,” deliberately setting toll levels “far in excess of amounts needed to pay for the operation and maintenance of the Dulles Toll Road plus reasonable payments for the debt incurred to construct or improve” it. The toll road was later transferred to MWAA.
Taxing is a legislative function, and “the Virginia General Assembly has never enacted legislation that delegates to MWAA the power to set the tolls.” Even if lawmakers wanted to do so, the lawsuit maintains, they “could not delegate a toll-setting power to MWAA because MWAA is an entity completely outside of the governments of the Commonwealth.”
Plaintiffs are asking that any tolls collected after the 2005 toll increase be returned to toll road users. The amounts are enormous, estimated at $64 million in 2010 alone.