- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Activists on both sides of a Northern Virginia transportation referendum are lying low and building a foundation to help ensure victory in November.
"We've been working on getting support of different organizations and getting the word around the region to different groups," said Mame Reilly, campaign manager for Citizens for Better Transportation, an advocacy group that supports the referendum.
"We are making a huge grass-roots effort, meeting twice a month and talking to many different people, looking ahead toward November. We are very confident," said Peter Ferrara, president of the Virginia Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization that is opposed to the referendum.
Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions will be asked in November whether they want to raise the sales tax by one-half of a percent to fund transportation initiatives throughout the region, including rail and road options.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, campaigned heavily on the issue last year and made it a cornerstone of his first legislative session in Richmond this past winter. He is expected to be in the region later this month to promote the referendum, and some say he has a lot to lose if it fails.
"This is an awfully crucial time for Governor Warner," said Bill Wood, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. "If you don't have the money, you can't do anything as governor. I don't know what he could do if [this referendum] fails."
Both sides said they are planning to spend the rest of the summer meeting with groups and spreading the word through grass-roots organizations, phone banks and word of mouth.
Jack Hughes, a volunteer with Citizens for Better Transportation, is coordinating outreach to senior citizens, writing various retirement organizations and meeting with senior center leaders to make sure these voters know how they would benefit if the initiative passes.
"This referendum is of particular importance to seniors because of the large investment that would be made toward public transportation and how often they take advantage of public transportation," Mr Hughes said.
Under the proposal, 40 percent of the funds raised would go toward improving public transportation in the region.
Neither side plans to hit the airwaves soon because the cost of advertising in the D.C. media market, combined with the limited turnout a tax vote can bring particularly when there are no prominent election races at the top of the ballot would preclude activists from spending money early on when voters are not likely to be paying attention, they said. Furthermore, once the on-air campaign starts, it can't stop, so the longer the activists can defer spending their limited resources, the better, they said.
"There really is no point in spending money now, because no one is paying attention, but after Labor Day, the burden of proof will be on the proponents of the referendum," Mr. Wood said.
Voters gave a preview of the outcome last week. Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a staunch opponent of the referendum, soundly defeated Democrat Cathy Belter, an avid supporter, in a special election to succeed retired state Sen. Warren E. Barry.
"This election was in the heart of the region where the referendum will take place and where residents would benefit most from a referendum, but they lost, and the referendum lost. It was a classic test of the voter strength on the tax issue, and we won," said Mr. Ferrara.
Tony Howard, public-affairs manager for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which supports the referendum, said the outcome was not surprising, given the Republican leanings of the district, but that has not changed their strategy in support of the referendum.
"In the past, when we have done surveys asking people about roads, there has almost always been two-to-one support for some sort of self-help solution like the referendum," he said.
The chamber is sponsoring a debate in September between the two sides to help bring attention to the issue, and is hopeful that once all the facts are known, voters will see the need for the infusion of funds, Mr. Howard said.


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