- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) Supporters began a campaign yesterday to persuade voters that it's worth it to the average Hampton Roads family to pay an extra $100 in sales taxes a year to finance six transportation projects.

On Nov. 5, Hampton Roads voters will decide whether to increase their sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. The additional penny on the dollar would be dedicated to a $6 billion bond package to build six projects that would cost $7.7 billion by the time the bonds are paid off.

The tax increase would cost the average Hampton Roads family with three persons and an annual income of $42,000 about $100 a year, said Julie Rautio, spokeswoman for the Yes Campaign, an effort of local politicians and business leaders. "Compared to tolls, it is a relative bargain," she said.

Alliances of conservative taxpayer advocates and environmental groups oppose the referendum as well as a similar referendum that will ask Northern Virginia voters to raise their sales tax by a half cent, from 4.5 percent to 5 percent.

The increase would "put another burden on already burdened taxpayers," said John Moss, chairman of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance. "We can't afford this kind of leadership.

"We should be looking at a state solution since it's a state [transportation] system," he said.

Proponents have said a family of four would pay an extra $91 a year, if voters approve the tax increase in Northern Virginia.

The cost of living is higher in Northern Virginia, and residents there earn more and spend more on consumer goods than Hampton Roads residents, Miss Rautio said.

"So a half cent ends up costing about the same" as a full cent increase in Hampton Roads, she said.

An estimated 15 percent of the tax increase in Hampton Roads would be paid by visitors from out of the area, Miss Rautio said.

The tax increase would pay for projects including construction of a third bridge-tunnel crossing between South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula and widening of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula.

"From the drag on our economy to the worsening of our air quality, Hampton Roads' inadequate, aging transportation infrastructure poses a serious threat to our quality of life," said Donna Morris of the Hampton Roads Partnership, the organization that led the effort to pass legislation allowing the referendum.

If approved, the tax increase would take effect in 2004. The projects would be built over 20 years and the bonds would be paid off in 35 years, Miss Rautio said.

The Yes Campaign has raised $511,000 in the last three weeks toward its $1.5 million goal, said campaign co-chairman Josh Darden, a Norfolk businessman.

Campaign officials plan to use billboard, radio and possibly television ads, as well as meet with civic organizations and send people door-to-door to talk to voters.

Last month, a group dominated by anti-tax conservatives filed a lawsuit in Richmond to halt both referendums. A judge threw out the lawsuit on Tuesday, ruling it was too early to consider the group's contention that the legislation authorizing the referendums unconstitutionally gives legislative power to voters.

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