- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

Fairfax County government officials said yesterday that they oppose a D.C.-government-proposed commuter tax and demanded an apology from a D.C. Council member who last week called Virginians “backward” and “greedy” for not supporting the levy.

At its meeting, the Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous resolution directing County Attorney David Bobzien to take “any action necessary” to oppose the tax. That means the county could intervene in a lawsuit on the side of the federal government, which would be the defendant in the case.

“Our neighbors to the north intend to exact a new source of revenue out of the pockets of thousands of Fairfax County residents employed in the nation’s capital in order to compensate for their own financial mismanagement,” Supervisors Michael R. Frey and Stuart Mendelsohn, Sully and Dranesville Republicans, said in a joint written statement.

In the same resolution, the board called on D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, to apologize for making comments that several board members said constituted a setback for regional cooperation.

Mr. Evans said in an interview with The Washington Post last week that Virginians, by opposing the tax, were “living up to their reputation of being narrow-minded.”

Mr. Evans was out of town on vacation yesterday and did not comment through a spokesman.

Mr. Frey and Mr. Mendelsohn denounced Mr. Evans’ remarks as “ludicrous and offensive.” “It is shameful that a servant of the public would stoop to such foolish behavior and name-calling,” they said.

However, the county board stopped short of calling on Congress to “continue its efforts to encourage better financial management within the District.”

D.C. government and public school officials recently came under fire for mismanaging employee credit cards.

The Washington Times first reported in June that an audit of the D.C. public school system’s credit card program revealed more than $1.6 million in employee-issued credit card charges for which school officials couldn’t account. Some of the charges included improper purchases for hotel services, food, gifts and “items prone to mysterious disappearance,” said city Auditor Deborah K. Nicholls.

News of the school system’s credit card turmoil amplified reports in The Washington Post that $5.5 million in improper purchases had been made by city employees in 1,200 separate incidents.

Last week, the D.C. Council voted to sign onto a lawsuit being brought by several District residents against the federal government’s ban on a commuter tax. The lawsuit has not yet been filed.

The Brookings Institution has estimated that a 2 percent tax on the roughly 500,000 commuters would yield the District $540 million.

D.C. Council members have said the tax would offset an imbalance that forces D.C. residents to pay for public services that commuters enjoy for free. But local-government officials in Maryland and Virginia strongly oppose the tax.

Fairfax County board Chairman Katherine K. Hanley said the District’s push to have the Department of Homeland Security located downtown demonstrates why a commuter tax would be unreasonable.

“This seems to be a question of, ‘Can you have it both ways?’” she said. “You can’t say, ‘We want facilities downtown,’ but then when people come downtown say, ‘We don’t want you.’”

Prince William County officials plan to issue a similar measure today. Prince William County Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, a lawyer who commutes to the District, has proposed a “Kcaj Snave Day” in honor of Mr. Evans, during which “enthusiastic taxpaying Virginian commuters” could walk backward into the District.

“Their motto is, ‘No taxation without representation,’ and it’s funny, but that’s exactly what they’re doing here,” Mr. Connaughton said.

Mr. Connaughton agreed with Fairfax officials that Mr. Evans’ comments were a blow to regional cooperation.

“As a region, we have attempted to work closely together on a host of issues, most recently on homeland defense,” Mr. Connaughton said. “To see someone on the D.C. Council make comments like this undermines any sort of ability to work together.”

“Here’s the bottom line: The District needs us a heck of a lot more than we need them,” he said.

Also yesterday, the Fairfax County board voted 9-1 to modify parking requirements for Tysons Corner Center. Mr. Mendelsohn cast the lone vote against the change, citing his concern that there would not be enough parking. Supervisors acted based on a study commissioned by the mall’s owners.

The mall, which has about 250 stores, will add a 4,400-seat movie theater, seven restaurants and additional stores in the space previously occupied by the J.C. Penney department store. The addition is expected to open by winter 2004.

There will be more than 800 additional parking spots, bringing the mall’s total to 10,245, when the project is completed. However, the mall will lose about 600 spaces during construction.

County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the businesses going into the addition will not bring in people at the same time. “This is an aggregate of uses, so you’re able to share the parking,” she said.

The board’s vote cuts by 391 the number of spaces required for the addition. It also reduces by 571 the number of spaces needed for another phase of construction, which will expand the Hecht’s department store.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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