- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

The latest report on area transportation trends is in, and the picture it paints, as expected, isn't pretty. Heavy traffic now extends well beyond the perimeter of the Beltway into outlying Prince William and Loudoun counties with morning backups on eastbound I-66 frequently reaching 22 miles from the Gainesville/Route 29 area just past Manassas. The Dulles Toll Road, Route 7 and other major feeders show equally dispiriting increases in traffic volume and the duration of the morning and evening rush hours. Raising taxes, however, will not solve the traffic problem.

To be sure, the triennial Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report comes at a propitious moment. On Nov. 5, Northern Virginia voters will decide by referendum whether to allow a tax increase and a new regional taxing authority that's being marketed by supporters as a way to ease the growing gridlock. The plan calls for the tax increase to finance transportation and infrastructure improvements. But, while most area residents would agree that expanding major arteries like I-66 and widening choke points are indeed desirable, the question of how to finance that work is an altogether different matter. Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner, who recently announced a number of salutary cuts in state jobs and programs, relentlessly pushes for the approval of his new regional taxing authority. Approval of the referendum would make it much easier to raise taxes in the future and without much say-so by the people of Virginia.

Meanwhile, there have been few, if any, cuts in corporate welfare programs such as the egregious Center for Innovative Technology in Dulles. Surely, the likes of America Online and other technology companies can get by without reaching into state coffers. Also, Virginia continues to cling to its outdated monopoly on the sale of hard liquor, which may be obtained only at state-run Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) outlets manned by taxpayer-financed state government employees. Mr. Warner has announced some cutbacks at ABC stores. But why is the state even involved in this enterprise? Why not allow private retailers to sell hard liquor, as they do beer and wine, with the state simply collecting the existing tax on such sales? This step alone would save millions of dollars, while generating a like sum in revenue that could be used for such purposes as funding transportation projects.

We didn't need the Council of Governments to tell us that the region's transportation infrastructure needs improvement. Virginia taxpayers are very familiar with the gridlock. However, that doesn't mean Virginians should be saddled with more and higher taxes to pay for the needed improvements.


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