Del. Ken Plum and 14 members of the Virginia General Assembly want toll relief for federal workers who are commuting on Virginia toll roads — including the Dulles Greenway — to go to their unpaid jobs as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history continues without an end in sight.
On Friday (Jan. 11), the 15 members sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine and Greg Woodsmall from the Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P., urging them to work with EZ-Pass to develop a system to freeze tolling Virginian workers who are forced to work without pay during the current government shutdown.
“It is suggested that this letter [from the workers’ respective departments] is submitted in conjunction with their EZ-Pass transponder number and that this number be used to freeze the transponder’s ability to charge the petitioning Virginian during the entirety of their furlough,” the members wrote in the letter.
They also urged Valentine and Woodsmall to design a way to reimburse tolls that were collected from Dec. 20 — the beginning of the federal government shutdown — until the shutdown ends.
Virginia is the sixth most affected state by the shutdown with more than 34,000 workers who are affected by the furlough and a “significant number of them” who are expected to work without pay, according to the letter.
“These hardworking Virginians are TSA agents, United States Marshalls, FBI agents and others who are working hard to protect our nation and state, allowing our nation’s operations to continue during the government shutdown,” the members wrote.
Del. Karrie Delaney, who represents a large population of federal workers in the 67th District, which includes parts of Herndon, said that the letter is an opportunity to provide some financial relief for the federal workers who “are trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet.”
“I represent TSA Agents, United States Marshalls, and FBI agents who are currently working without pay in order to protect our nation and our state,” Delaney said in a press release. “These residents are still going to work every day to ensure our nation’s operations continue, but they are not receiving a paycheck.”
JUST RELEASED: 14 other members of the GA and I have written the Secretary of Transportation to request that they take action and provide toll relief for furloughed federal workers who are still commuting on Virginia toll roads to go to their unpaid jobs.https://t.co/l5v6Lv5qQC
— Karrie Delaney (@KarrieKDelaney) January 11, 2019
Updated at 9:52 a.m. — United Airlines said that it does not receive a special jet fuel tax break.
The bill would offset some of the upcoming toll increases by ending what Guzman calls United Airlines’ “jet fuel tax exemption” and directing that roughly $4 million per year toward the Silver Line project, which is currently funded largely by tolls.
That revenue could cancel almost 9 percent of the scheduled 2019 toll increase, according to a press release from UNITE HERE Local 23.
“United Airlines does not receive a special tax break and pays the same jet fuel tax as all other airlines that serve airports in the Commonwealth,” Kimberly Gibbs, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, said.
Gibbs added that the second phase of the Silver Line “will benefit residents, employers and businesses throughout the Dulles corridor.”
In Virginia, larger airlines like United Airlines pay less per gallon in taxes on most of the jet fuel they use, the press release says.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors voted Nov. 14 to increase rates on the Dulles Toll Road for the first time since 2014 to fund the Silver Line extension project and improvements on the Dulles Toll Road, according to the MWAA. Starting in January, the hike will raise the toll from $2.50 to $3.25 at the main toll plaza and from $1 to $1.50 on ramps.
The bill responds to community concerns about the increasing tolls, which are expected to rise to more than $11 by 2043 without alternative funding, the press release said.
“Virginia continues to face a transportation infrastructure funding crisis,” Guzman said. “But Virginia commuters should not be asked to accept higher tolls to fund transit projects that benefit United Airlines, while the airline receives millions in state tax breaks.”
Dels. Kaye Kory and Lee Carter, Virginia AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE Local 23 and CASA in Action, joined Guzman by the windows outside the United Airlines ticketing counters on Wednesday (Dec. 12) at 5 p.m. for the announcement about the bill.
Supporters of the bill argue that the Silver Line project will redirect more of the consumer air traffic market to Dulles International Airport, bringing an additional $66 million to United Airlines with 1 percent more of the regional passenger airline market.
Similar efforts in New Jersey are also underway. In September, the New Jersey Senate passed similar legislation to end United’s jet fuel tax break there to fund aviation-related transit projects.
“Commuters and every other business along the Dulles Corridor are already paying their fair share for the Silver Line. United Airlines should too,” Doris Crouse-Mays, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, said.
Tonight I proudly stand with @unitehere23, @NovaLabor, @CASAinAction, and my colleagues in the House of Delegates as I introduce legislation for the 2019 session that will reduce tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Thank you @NBC4DC for the coverage tonight. https://t.co/Vry7w3vjUP pic.twitter.com/WN9PPkz0yV
— Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (@delegateguzman) December 13, 2018
— UNITE HERE Local 23 (@unitehere23) December 12, 2018
Photo via Nova Labor/Facebook