- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Gov. Mark R. Warner yesterday added Northern Virginia to a bill authorizing a referendum on a sales-tax increase to fund roads in the Hampton Roads area.

The governor's action, if approved by legislators later this month, would give Northern Virginia voters the chance to approve or defeat a tax increase to pay for transportation projects.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said the "transportation crisis" in both localities threatens the economic growth of the state.

The General Assembly is scheduled to meet April 17 for a one-day special session to review amendments made by the governor and attempt to override any vetoes. Supporters of the referendum said yesterday they were optimistic that this latest attempt might be successful in allowing residents to vote up or down a half-percent increase in the sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

"Some of my colleagues are going to be opposed to any initiative that would involve a tax increase, and I don't think that will change much," said Delegate Jack Rollison, whose own legislation on the matter did not pass this session. But "part of the beauty of this legislation [compared with earlier versions that failed] is that all the money that is raised in Northern Virginia is spent in Northern Virginia."

Delegate David Albo, Springfield Republican, said this latest proposal was what many Northern Virginia legislators had been trying to accomplish during the session.

"This is exactly what we have wanted all along from the very beginning," Mr. Albo said. The battle for passage, though, is going to be in the Senate, he said.

Sen. Charles Colgan, who had sponsored his own failed version of a referendum for Northern Virginia, agreed.

"We are going to have to work to get the legislators from the different regions of the state," said Mr. Colgan, Manassas Democrat. "We have helped them in the past with their problems, and I hope they will help us now. They owe us one."

Other lawmakers remain skeptical.

"I am probably going to vote against it because it does not help our needs," said Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, Martinsville Democrat. "The truth is, there are transportation needs all over the state. If one locality is able to dig out of the [transportation mess] and others are not, then the whole state suffers in my mind as a result."

Supporters also face another hurdle because some Democrats, led by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said they would not support a referendum for Northern Virginia if a statewide education component were not addressed as well.

Delegate Robert Brink, Arlington Democrat, supported the education component, but he said legislators might have to take what they can get. He said he was confident education would ultimately be addressed.

"I feel the governor is committed to addressing the education needs of the state," Mr. Brink said. "I would have preferred that this have an education component, but when the speaker of the House refuses to entertain that, it makes it necessary to just have the transportation issue on the table."

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