- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Northern Virginia's business community is pushing for tax reform and more infrastructure investment to pull it out of an economic slump as the Virginia General Assembly convenes its 2002 session tomorrow.
This year offers the region one of the best opportunities in years with the new governor, the chairmen of four powerful committees and three new delegates all from Northern Virginia. Top issues for Northern Virginia businesses are transportation, education and jobs.
In 2001, national corporate earnings were down 16.7 percent. High-tech companies, like those along the Dulles Road corridor, were among the hardest hit by the economy's downturn.
"For Northern Virginia, the number one issue is the state budget crisis," said Ellen Qualls, press secretary for Gov.-elect Mark Warner, the Alexandria Democrat scheduled to be sworn in Saturday. The state projects a $3.3 billion deficit over the next 30 months.
"The number two issue for the business community is the sales-tax issue for transportation," Miss Qualls said.
The General Assembly is scheduled to consider a half-cent increase in the sales tax for Northern Virginia that would be dedicated to improving transportation. Business leaders have complained that traffic congestion damages their ability to retain employees and to make or receive deliveries.
Miss Qualls said Mr. Warner sympathizes with the heavily high-tech industries in Northern Virginia. He is the co-founder of Nextel, a telecommunications heavyweight in McLean. Three of Mr. Warner's 10 Cabinet secretaries come from Northern Virginia.
Other political leaders from the area are Republican legislators scheduled to take over the chairmanships of the committees on appropriations, education, finance and transportation.
"Northern Virginia is beefing up its political muscle in the General Assembly," said Josh Levi, director of policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
His top priority is the half-cent sales-tax increase for transportation.
He also wants a regional transportation authority to coordinate the region's transportation planning, which suffers from infighting among Virginia, Maryland and D.C. officials. Mr. Levi is the technology council's lobbyist to the General Assembly.
"As is true with the business community generally in Northern Virginia, the technology sector falls victim to this woefully inadequate transportation system," Mr. Levi said. "Transportation has become elevated very high on our agenda."
Another item on the business community's wish list is more funding for the educational programs that provide technology workers.
Northern Virginia's higher education institutions claim to have $2.1 billion in unfunded needs.
The technology council hopes the General Assembly will authorize a bond issue for higher education.
Ken Moore, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, said the state needs to redirect more money to educational institutions to keep Northern Virginia's businesses operating.
"Business has to have a well-educated work force," Mr. Moore said. "That's a critical issue as far as business is concerned."

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