- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Most Virginia and Maryland voters want political leaders to cut development and slow population growth by restricting immigration, according to results of a new Mason-Dixon poll.

Voters in both states contend that population growth has led to overcrowded schools, increased traffic congestion and depleted natural resources, such as the Chesapeake Bay, state rivers, farmland and wooded areas, the poll shows.

About 54 percent of Virginia voters and 69 percent of Maryland voters said the quality of life will deteriorate if growth continues at its current rate, the poll shows.

"The results show that voters are beginning to connect the dots and they feel that their states are going in a direction they're not comfortable with," said Sharon Stein, executive director of Negative Population Growth, the nonprofit group that commissioned Mason-Dixon Polling & Research to conduct the public-opinion poll.

Negative Population Growth is a District of Columbia-based group that aims to "educate the American public and political leaders about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and quality of life," according to its press release.

Mason-Dixon conducted the telephone survey between July 19 and Aug. 3, polling 636 registered voters in Virginia and 631 in Maryland. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"This [poll] is a wake-up call to political leaders that something needs to be done to control the population," Mrs. Stein said, "because voters aren't feeling too good about it."

According to those polled, one way to curb growth is to restrict immigration.

Fifty-eight percent of voters in both states said they would want the federal government to lower immigration levels to reduce the population. Fifty-four percent said they would more likely support a political candidate who supports reductions in national immigration levels.

"The voters aren't complaining [about] where these [immigrants] are coming from, but that it's too many people, period," Mrs. Stein said.

Sixty-seven percent of Northern Virginia voters and 54 percent of Maryland voters said the population in their region is "too large," the poll shows.

In Northern Virginia alone, 84 percent of those surveyed said they spend more time in traffic and less time with family because of road congestion. Another 73 percent believe the current pace of development and population growth has resulted in overcrowded schools and threatens the quality of education, the poll shows.

Seventy-two percent polled in Northern Virginia, compared to 60 percent in the rest of the state, said the current pace will threaten the quality of life in Virginia.

After reviewing the results of the poll yesterday, Fairfax County officials said more needs to be done to control traffic congestion. But when it comes to immigration, they said it becomes a "complicated" question.

"People live here for a good cause. They have good-paying jobs and a good quality of life," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell, a Republican who represents the Springfield district. "But they don't want anyone else to come in and live the same way. How do you close the door?"

Meanwhile, the poll shows that 75 percent of Maryland voters believe overpopulation has led to overcrowding in schools and 73 percent said they are spending more time in traffic. Some 70 percent of voters believe the current growth rate will threaten the quality of life in Maryland.

The results didn't surprise Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, who has worked over the years to pass laws dealing with growth management.

"The governor has really been at the forefront of these issues," said Michelle Byrnie, the governor's deputy press secretary. "The results validate what the governor has always said, that we can no longer pave our way out of sprawl. We need to look at other ways to manage growth."

Fifty-one percent of Northern Virginia voters and 52 percent of Maryland voters agree that sprawl cannot be controlled unless the state's population stops growing. And the poll shows that voters in both states 80 percent in both Maryland and in Virginia said state and federal lawmakers have a responsibility to reduce development and slow population growth.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, said land-use decisions in his state are made at the local government level.

"Each locality has the discretion to determine whether their community needs more housing, more business or more open space," the governor said in a written statement. "Land-use decisions impact citizens' daily lives and, in Virginia, land-use decisions are made at the level of government closest to the citizens impacted."

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