- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

A key point of contention in the debate over the sales tax referendum for Northern Virginia is how much of the half-cent tax increase would actually go to the region for transportation projects.

Supporters insist that all money raised in Northern Virginia would stay in the area, but opponents cite history in saying that the lion's share of the funds would go to the state.

"The beauty of this referendum is that 100 percent of the money raised in Northern Virginia will be used for transportation projects in Northern Virginia," said Mame Reiley, campaign manager for Citizens for Better Transportation, an advocacy group that supports the referendum. "No more of this money going to Richmond to let them divvy it up."

James Parmelee, a spokesman for the Northern Virginia Coalition to Stop the Sales Tax, dismissed that idea.

"If we raise our taxes, the money may not come back to us," he said.

"In the past, when the General Assembly has dedicated money to a regional project, they have almost invariably broken their promise and spent the money on things it was not intended for. They are asking us to trust hope over experience," he said.

The transportation referendum asks if voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions want to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to five cents when they go to the polls Nov. 5, with funds going toward transportation initiatives in the area to relieve congestion. The increase would raise about $130 million a year to finance $5 billion in bonds over 20 years.

Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, campaigned heavily on the issue in the fall. Voters in the Hampton Roads area will vote on a similar referendum, which would raise their sales tax by a cent.

Mr. Warner campaigned yesterday in Hampton Roads on behalf of that referendum. If it fails, he said, gridlock could cause losses in productivity and tourism. He is expected to make a similar appearance in Northern Virginia on Aug. 28, and a spokeswoman said the governor intends to step up his efforts after Labor Day.

Ms. Reiley said several groups were lining up behind the referendum.

"Over 40 percent of the bond funds will be used for transit and rail projects in Northern Virginia. A lot of folks in the environmental community are supporting this referendum and I think it's the reason we have such broad support," she said.

Ken Cuccinelli, Centreville Republican, who is running for the state Senate seat opened by Sen. Warren E. Barry's retirement, has been against the tax increase since day one.

"This is a politically incorrect position, but I think it's the right one. One of the things happening here, the politicians in Richmond are ducking their responsibility. And I believe they should be forced to vote on this and then stand at the ballot box and be accountable," Mr. Cuccinelli said.

"What they are trying to do is get more tax money into Richmond for them to play with, without having to vote for a tax increase themselves," he said.

Mr. Cuccinelli will face Democrat Cathy Belter, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, in a special election Tuesday. Mrs. Belter supports the transportation referendum.

Mr. Barry has been a strong supporter of the referendum even crossing party lines to endorse Mrs. Belter. Other Republican supporters include Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III of Prince William and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner.

The sales tax, if passed on Election Day, would take effect July 1, 2003.

Mary Shaffrey contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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