- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

Stafford resident Chuck Farmer didn't hesitate to voice his opinion about a referendum on increasing the sales tax by a half-percent in Northern Virginia to pay for transportation projects.

"There's so much money wasted already," said Mr. Farmer, a 46-year-old civil engineer. "Why do we need higher taxes? We left England to get lower taxes."

But Larry Gabriel, who moved from San Francisco to Fairfax in September, said an increase could do some good.

"I wouldn't mind paying a half-percent sales tax increase if it only goes towards the transportation gridlock," said Mr. Gabriel, 55. "There's enough money for education as it is."Northern Virginians spoke for and against the tax proposal at the Fair Oaks Shopping Center in Fairfax on Friday.

The referendum, which will be held Nov. 5, is expected to cost the average resident about 25 cents a day and produce about $130 million a year in revenue for nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions. If passed, the sales tax increase would go into effect in July next year.Teacher Carol Heflin said that, although she already pays enough taxes, the increase shouldn't be too much of a burden.

"I don't see any other way to raise the money besides a sales tax," the 55-year-old Fairfax resident said. "I don't think half-percent is too much to ask people."

Darcia Harper, a retired government employee in Springfield, said she is going to vote for the increase. "Even though I don't get out on the road much anymore, it will benefit my family," said Mrs. Harper, adding that saving money on gas because of less traffic would be one tangible benefit.

Residents listed several projects they would support with higher taxes, such as extending the Metro subway system, widening highways and creating new Potomac River crossings. Several currently opposed to the increase said their votes could be won over with more details about how the revenue would be spent.

Some said the sales tax is an effective method of raising funds but suggested that the money be spent on other needs - not just transportation.

"Education should be the first and foremost concern," said Stacy Urick, a 34-year-old teacher from Woodbridge. "If it weren't for teachers, the people in those offices wouldn't be smart enough to work in those offices."Others said transportation concerns must be addressed but took issue with the proposed method for addressing them.

"I'm not voting for it," said W.P. Alwine, a Fairfax business developer. "The cause is good and needed, but I don't think the government can handle the budget they have."

"I'll probably vote 'no' on it," said Eric Horstman, a 25-year-old accountant from Fairfax Station. "I don't see enough being done with the tax we have. Next thing you know, the tax will be 5.5, 6, 6.5 percent."

The proposed increase also received criticism from residents concerned about the distribution of its benefits. Some Fairfax residents said the half-percent sales tax increase, which would affect only Northern Virginia, would end up funding improvements in other parts of the state.

"If we had the assurance that the money would be spent on roads in Northern Virginia, I'd go along with it," said Paris Dickens, a retired auto mechanic.

Others said it makes sense that the tax's benefits be shared across the state. "This is where the money is, the population is," said Daynah Burnett, a 25-year-old student at George Mason University.

Kate Hanley, chairwoman of Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors, said Friday the tax revenue also would help with transit issues, including improving pedestrian areas around Metro stations. Mrs. Hanley said regional transportation improvements make the increase worthwhile.

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