- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Proponents of the referendum to increase the sales tax by a half-percent to fund transportation projects in Northern Virginia acknowledge that the money raised will not be an "end-all, be-all," solution to area congestion.

"This is an opportunity for us to do something for ourselves. Will these transportation improvements alleviate [all] congestion? No," said Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican, as part of his closing remarks at an educational forum on the referendum Sunday night in Woodbridge.

Mr. Rollison, who squared off against Delegate James "Jay" O'Brien, Clifton Republican, in a 90-minute debate sponsored by the Family Foundation of Virginia at Northern Virginia Community College, said that for the area to help fight congestion, additional revenue which is unlikely to come from the state soon would have to be raised.

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"There is no such thing as a free lunch," he said.

But Mr. O'Brien said the state has to do a better job of distributing funds and that this referendum is not the answer.

"All Virginians, rural, urban and suburban have a responsibility to help" construct better roads in Northern Virginia, Mr. O'Brien said. "The referendum needs to fail in order to get the attention of the state. The problem is there are so many competing interests."

Both sides used the recent announcement by Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, that the state faces a $1.5 billion shortfall as a rallying cry to garner support.

"There is no support outside of Northern Virginia, and we don't even have unanimous support within the delegation for a proposal like that," Mr. Rollison said when asked about reallocating funds from other areas of the state to fund the improvements needed in the region, particularly in light of the shortfall.

Furthermore, he said, the area is likely to lose money after the completion of expensive projects such as the Wilson Bridge and the Springfield Interchange.

"I am not confident that we can retain [our current level of funding] from statewide revenue," Mr. Rollison continued.

"When these projects wind down, we won't get as much revenue as we are getting now."

But Mr. O'Brien said the state has to do a better job of allocating funds so that Northern Virginia gets more money instead of higher taxes and that the budget shortfall is just proof of that.

"We have to reorder our priorities with the revenues we have," Mr. O'Brien said.

The forum was the first of many such events scheduled in various parts of the region during the next two months.

Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions will be asked Nov. 5 whether they want to raise the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent to fund transportation initiatives in the area.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, said the more that people find out about the referendum, the more he is convinced that it will fail. He is opposed to the sales tax increase because he feels the area has a high enough tax burden already.

"We're being asked to increase our state taxes, but if you look closely at the situation, you will see that Northern Virginia is being taken to the cleaners," said Mr. Lingamfelter, who did not take part in the debate.

During the forum, residents most of whom seemed to have made up their minds asked pointed questions of the two men about the effectiveness of the referendum and what the other alternatives were.

When asked which projects that the state funds that he would cut to reallocate funds to Northern Virginia for transportation, Mr. O'Brien was silent.

Renate Sieger of Woodbridge said that unless Mr. O'Brien could name other legislators from other parts of the state "right this minute," she was going to support the referendum because she was weary of gridlock.

"You've got to start somewhere," she said.

Others said the referendum is an indication that Northern Virginia lawmakers have not protected the interests of Northern Virginia voters.

"We pay you all to go to Richmond to represent our priorities, but it seems that no one wants to do that anymore," said Jeff Frederick of Woodbridge, who warned that if this bill passed, the rest of the state would be likely to begin to see a trend toward governing by referendum.

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