- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Virginia's leading Democrat and Republican made a final push yesterday in support of a regional referendum that would raise the sales tax to pay for $5 billion in transportation projects.
Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner and Republican U.S. Sen. John W. Warner appeared at rallies in Prince William County and Alexandria, saying the referendum would be the best chance to unclog the region's congested traffic network.
The rally highlighted the odd alliances that formed among supporters and opponents of the referendum, which would raise the sales tax in nine Virginia cities and counties from 4.5 percent to 5 percent.
The two Warners, who are unrelated, ran against each other for the Senate in 1996, with Sen. Warner winning re-election. But they have made numerous appearances and filmed commercials together in support of the Northern Virginia referendum and a similar one in Hampton Roads, which would raise the sales tax to 5.5 percent.
"I bet there is no other place in America where today you would have the senior senator from one party and the governor from the other standing together united in one cause," Sen. Warner said.
He predicted the referendum would pass in both regions, but he expected it to be close.
"A tax increase is the biggest battle any elected official is going to face," he said. "Today, people's pocketbooks are not full by any means. Even a small tax like this is a real challenge."
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, credited Gov. Warner for taking such an active role in supporting the referendum.
"He has put everything into seeing this transportation referendum pass," Mr. Moran said. "He has put his leadership on the line."
The bipartisan support for the referendum is not absolute. In recent days, two prominent Republicans, Sen. George Allen, and former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, announced that they would oppose the referendum.
About 150 people, including several dozen opponents of the tax increase, attended the Alexandria rally.
Those opponents included traditional conservative anti-tax activists and environmental coalitions concerned that the funds would fuel sprawling development.
Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said he believes opponents have been able to relay their message to the public despite a relative lack of funds.
"It's easy for proponents to stand there and say, 'Spend a little more and we'll build all these highways,'" Mr. Schwartz said. "But people are deeply suspicious that this will do anything to reduce traffic. They're deeply suspicious about the referendum's ties to the development community."
Mr. Schwartz said that if the referendum passes, his group and others will pressure the governor and local officials to honor their commitments that a large share of the funds go to mass transit and to do a better job of linking transportation and land-use planning.

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