- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Proponents of a transportation referendum for Northern Virginia have begun to take their case to business and community leaders, trying to drum up support for the hotly contested ballot initiative this November and to clear up some misconceptions.

"[The Virginia Department of Transportation] has been basically eviscerated over the last 10 years, and this is our way to try to solve some of our problems in the next 10 years," state Sen. Linda T. Puller, Fairfax Democrat, told more than 100 members of the Transportation Association of Greater Springfield at their first annual breakfast yesterday morning.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley was a bit more direct, saying: "We need to pass that referendum."

Residents of nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions are being asked to vote on legislation the General Assembly passed in March proposing a half-percent increase in the sales tax to raise funds for badly needed transportation improvements. Hampton Roads will vote on a similar proposal that would raise their sales tax by 1 full percent.

Critics of the referendum say the legislature is passing the buck by making the voters do their job for them. They also say residents should not be paying the additional funds when the state should be stepping in. As an alternative to the referendum, some have suggested raising the gasoline tax.

Gov. Mark R. Warner, Democrat, a proponent of the referendum, yesterday told listeners to the hourlong "Ask the Governor" program on WTOP radio that the legislature has spoken for now. This is "an honest debate," and energies should be focused on seeing it through this fall, he said.

Others, however, said this proposal is too costly, compared to what will be raised with the referendum funds.

"It would take a 17-cent gas tax to raise this kind of money," Mrs. Hanley said.

Many fear state funding to the region would be cut if the referendum passes something Mr. Warner pledged yesterday would not happen.

"I can say publicly that will not happen, and that's guaranteed," Mr. Warner said.

"This is new funds that'll be put to use. They will not take away any of the existing funds that we have for transportation."

Other proponents say the cost of the sales-tax increase is minimal compared to the benefits the region would receive.

"This is $73 a year we are talking about," said Elaine McConnell, a Republican member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "Anyone in Fairfax County who thinks that is too high, well I don't know why they think that because [the referendum funds] are so essential."

During the 90-minute breakfast, business leaders said without greater transportation alternatives in the area, economic vitality and quality of life issues will suffer.

"It's absolutely critical that we pass this," said William DePuy Jr., president of Calibre, a government contracting company based in Alexandria.

"I am not sure there is an immediate level of need right now, but the transportation crisis raises the frustration levels on so many other issues that it begins a death spiral, and right now we don't have many alternatives."

Dr. Charlene Connolly, provost at the Northern Virginia Community College medical education campus in Springfield, said without the new roads and funding from the referendum, her fledgling school will suffer.

"Transportation is the key to this puzzle," Dr.Connolly said. "If your customers, like our students, can't get from there to here, it does not matter what you have to sell."

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