- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Voters in Virginia have no high-profile candidate races tomorrow, but they have plenty of reasons to go to the polls.
In nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions, voters will decide whether to increase the sales tax to generate more money to solve a traffic gridlock problem know as one the worst in the country.
"This is not the perfect solution, but the alternative is doing nothing," said Gov. Mark R. Warner, who has been a leading supporter of the half-penny increase.
Delegate James "Jay" O'Brien, Clifton Republican, called the proposed increase the "absolute worst" precedent in public policy for Northern Virginia.
"If it's transportation this year, it will be something else next year," he said. "And that is terrible public policy."
The tax increase will generate an estimated $5 billion in bonds over the next 20 years to expand the transit system, improve roads and build new ones if residents in Arlington, Loundon, Fairfax and Prince William counties and in the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park approve the referendum,
The sales tax rate is now 4.5 cents per dollar. Food, drugs and nonprescription medication would be exempt from the increase.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, made passage of the referendum a cornerstone of his campaign last year and lobbied extensively for its approval during his inaugural legislative session in Richmond earlier this year.
"It is not an easy thing we are asking people to do," he said earlier this fall. "We are asking them to raise their taxes. But this is allowing the people of Northern Virginia to do something for themselves."
Mr. Warner and other referendum supporters say a tax increase in necessary because the state is facing a $1.5 billion budget deficit.
Polls have indicated the outcome tomorrow for the referendum will be close. In the final days, both sides have said they have the momentum and have even released poll results showing their side leads by four points.
Mr. Warner is so confident the referendum will pass that he has declined to ask questions about a failed referendum.
Opponents feel the same way.
"When we win this, it will be the ultimate comeuppance for [grass-roots activists] against the establishment," said state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, chairman of the Coalition Against the Sales Tax.
The battle lines for the referendum were drawn almost immediately after the General Assembly approved the measure during its April session. Pro-referendum advocates included most elected officials from the region and most business people. The other side comprises a wide range of civic groups, including school boards and transportation groups.
"I feel great," said Mame Reilly, chairman of Citizens for Better Transportation, the leading referendum advocacy group. "There was so much energy on Friday when we had 75 different groups standing with the governor advocating for passage."
Later today, Mr. Warner will be joined by U.S. Sen. John Warner, Republican, and other elected officials in Market Square in Alexandria for a final get-out-the vote rally.
Sen. John W. Warner, Republican, who will likely win his Senate race tomorrow, is an Alexandria resident and has been a leading advocate of the referendum. He said he too is frustrated with congestion.
"I have worked with seven governors, and we are fortunate to have a governor [now] who went through the school of hard knocks in the business world," Sen. Warner said. "I back him 100 percent."
U.S. Sen. George Allen, Republican, disagrees.
Mr. Allen, who was governor or Virginia from 1993 to 1997, told The Washington Times he is not convinced this is the solution.
"I don't think the proponents have made the case that this is what we should do," said Mr. Allen, a Mount Vernon resident. "The answer to me doesn't seem to be to raise taxes."
Opponents to the referendum include many grass-roots advocates on the Republican and Democratic sides and a coalition of environmental and anti-sprawl groups.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smart Growth, has argued that new roads and transit stations in Virginia are not the answer. He instead thinks existing Metro stations in Maryland should have better development.
"There are 13 empty Metro stations in Prince George's County with no development" he said. "Work with these stations. That is what should be done, because to fix this we have to work together as a region."
Coordination between the groups has been mixed until the closing days of the campaign.
"We gave them some of our literature and they gave us some of theirs," said James Parmelee, chairman of NorthernVirginiaGOP.com, a leading anti-tax group. "But it is kind of hard because some of our conservatives don't feel comfortable working with some of their more left-leaning people. And some of their left-leaning individuals don't really want to work with us. So we target our audiences."
Mr. Schwartz said to picture the alliance as two trains on parallel tracks coming from opposite directions, but going to the same point.
"It's not a true coalition, it has been more of a lose coalition because we'd be silly not to," he said.
The big issue for many grass-roots Republicans is they think Richmond is not sending back enough of the money residents send to the capital.
"We can change the formula to get the money. We need to get our fair share here," Mr. O'Brien said.

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