- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

RICHMOND A judge yesterday threw out a lawsuit challenging referendums to raise sales taxes to pay for transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Richmond Circuit Judge Randall Johnson ruled it was too early to consider a claim by a group of anti-tax conservatives that the referendums were unconstitutional because they ceded legislative authority to voters.

The plaintiffs wanted Judge Johnson to order the referendums struck from the Nov. 5 ballot in those two regions. The judge agreed with the state's argument that a challenge would be more appropriate after the election if the referendums were approved.

"I don't think the court should interfere with the legislative process," Judge Johnson said.

He also said the petitioners likely erred in naming the State Board of Elections as the defendant. He said the board's only role was conducting the election ordered by the General Assembly.

The referendums, approved by the General Assembly and strongly supported by Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, call for a half-cent sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia and a one-cent increase in Hampton Roads.

Proponents of the referendums say in a time of scarce state resources, people in traffic-clogged regions should be allowed to solve their own transportation problems. In Northern Virginia, some commuters are stranded for hours daily. The situation is less critical but steadily worsening in Hampton Roads, a region dominated by the military and tourism.

The lawsuit said the state constitution authorized tax-supported debt only when approved by "a majority of the registered voters participating in a statewide referendum."

Each of the Hampton Roads petitioners would assume an additional tax burden of about $3.50 per $1,000 of personal income while each of the Northern Virginia plaintiffs would incur about half that amount in additional taxes, the lawsuit claimed.

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