- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner is likely to attach an amendment to legislation that would allow a sales-tax referendum in Hampton Roads to include Northern Virginia, administration and legislative sources said yesterday.
During the campaign, Mr. Warner made the referendum a major part of his transportation plan, which counted on $900 million from a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia.
But the administration has cast it as a matter of choice, saying the Democratic governor wants to keep his pledge to give Northern Virginians the right to vote on funding for road projects.
"I'm going to continue to make sure that voters in Hampton Roads have a chance to weigh in on transportation, the voters in Northern Virginia have a chance to weigh in on transportation," Mr. Warner said in an impromptu news conference yesterday, though he did not provide specifics. "I am very committed to making sure that transportation issues get addressed in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads."
Top administration sources said Mr. Warner has "dozens of options" when it comes to amending bills that would allow for a Northern Virginia transportation referendum; combining the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads transportation ballot measures seems the most likely scenario.
Mr. Warner can decide what to do with the Hampton Roads bill either before the General Assembly adjourns next week or during the veto session in April. As governor, Mr. Warner has the power to attach a relevant amendment to any legislation sent to him. Such bills must be approved again by the House and Senate.
The House of Delegates and the Senate have passed a measure allowing the Hampton Roads area to hold a referendum to increase the 4.5 cent sales tax by a penny to pay for about $5.9 billion in specific transportation projects. That bill is on its way to Mr. Warner's desk, and he has said he will sign it.
Each chamber also has passed similar versions of a measure allowing Northern Virginia to hold a referendum this fall that could increase the 4.5 cents sales tax by a half-cent for $2.3 billion in transportation projects.
Mr. Warner is optimistic that a statewide education referendum that would raise the sales tax by a half-cent can be on the same ballot as a transportation referendum.
"I continue to be hopeful that we will reach some consensus on the unmet education needs," Mr. Warner said.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, is steadfastly opposed to any statewide education referendums.
The Northern Virginia transportation bills originating in both chambers have had an education component tied to them, hurting their chances of getting passed.
The House plan calls for Northern Virginia localities to hold referendums this fall that would increase a person's taxable income by a quarter to a half percent. The Senate wants the statewide education referendum supported by Mr. Warner, which would increase the current sales tax by a half percent.
Because of the differences in the way an education referendum would be carried out either statewide or just in Northern Virginia there may be little chance that a bill with both an education and transportation component will pass, legislators say.
"The water is too wide," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.
And the transportation referendum has steadily lost support: Conservative Republicans who voted for it in various bills have been chastened by angry constituents and party leaders in their districts, party strategists say.
Northern Virginia Democrats are also deeply divided over the issue. There will be strong opposition in the region to any referendum proposal that does not include an education component, Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw said.
"If you put transportation-only on the ballot in Northern Virginia, it's not going to pass," said Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. "There are too many people working against it, including me."
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin E. Williams, Newport News Republican and sponsor of the Hampton Roads referendum bill, said Northern Virginia should be thrilled with the prospect of a transportation referendum.
"It's going to be their one last chance to get transportation," Mr. Williams said. "If they are willing to go home without, I find that hard to believe."


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