- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner persuaded lawmakers to pass a referendum to fund transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, but opponents of the tax increase aren't yet willing to give up the fight.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, said he is looking into ways he could bring the matter before a court because he believes the sales-tax referendum is unconstitutional.

"When the voters find out that they are being toyed with, they will not vote for this," Mr. Marshall said. "They are under no obligation to build any of these projects, and the voters will be played as suckers if this goes through . I am doing my research and looking into various options."

He would not comment on specifics of a possible lawsuit over the referendum, which the General Assembly approved Wednesday in a one-day special session.

The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 5. Voters in Northern Virginia will be asked whether to raise the sales tax by one-half percent, from 4.5 percent to 5 percent, to raise money for regional transportation initiatives. Voters in Hampton Roads will be asked if they want to raise the sales tax by a full percent for similar projects in their area.

A jubilant Mr. Warner proclaimed victory after the session concluded, saying: "This is an historic step, allowing voters in two traffic-clogged regions of the state exactly what I promised in my campaign: the right to decide for themselves the best way to speed up new transportation projects in their region."

Some Republicans who supported the referendum credited the Democratic governor with pushing it through.

"I think the governor had to knock a few heads together and one of them was mine, and I know that," said Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Mr. Rollison had worked hard throughout the year to get a transportation referendum for Northern Virginia, only to see versions fail.

"Everything [now] is fine, and we are in good shape," he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates the final cost of projects in the Northern Virginia area will be $2.7 billion. That includes $100 million for improvements to Route 28, $350 million for Dulles Corridor transit, $300 million for improvements to Interstate 66 and rail extension.

Virginians for Transportation Solutions (VTS), a lobbying group that worked throughout the session to ensure that Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia had the opportunity to vote on a transportation referendum, said the timing could not have been better.

"This was a culmination of [many factors]," said Buck Waters, executive director for VTS. "But when the VDOT numbers kept getting worse with the budget shortfalls, [it] demonstrated the need for this to alleviate some of the transportation problems."

Lobbying voters to support a sales-tax increase will likely be more difficult than lobbying lawmakers. Still, supporters are confident they will win.

"What we are talking about here is not just transportation improvements. This is talking about qualities of life," Mr. Warner said Wednesday. "Moms and dads want to spend less time in their cars and more time with families."

But Mr. Warner and other supporters should expect plenty of resistance. Opponents of the referendum including anti-tax advocates, smart-growth proponents and property-rights groups are likely to join forces in an unusual coalition to defeat it at the polls.

"We will beat this," said James Parmelee, chairman of Republicans United for Tax Relief, a Northern Virginia advocacy group. "What Governor Warner has done is unite a large group of people against his signature item. This is the only thing he showed any interest in."

Laura Olsen, assistant director for the environmental group Coalition for Smarter Growth, questioned whether extra funding would have any effect on congestion.

"There was a lot of pressure to pass this, but we don't think that more money is going to solve this," she said. "The map that came out of the governor's office is not going to help the transportation problem. It's only going to make it worse. And you can be sure you will see a lot of people coming out against it."

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