- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

Advocates on both sides of the Northern Virginia transportation referendum argued roads versus taxes yesterday in front of a decidedly partisan crowd in Tyson's Corner.

"We don't live in isolation; we are in the footsteps of our nation's capital and we need to work together. Your reality is much different from what reality really is," said referendum supporter Michael Lewis, chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the debate at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel.

"If we pass this, the scam continues," said James Parmelee, chairman of Republicans United for Tax Relief, a referendum opponent. "[The legislature] will continue to divert our funds downstate. We should not vote to cut our own throats."

Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions will be asked on Nov. 5 whether to raise their sales tax from 4½ cents to 5 cents per dollar to help fund transportation projects in the region aimed at decreasing gridlock. The money raised approximately $5 billion would go toward specified projects, including road construction and improvements, as well as rail and transit alternatives.

As written in the law passed by the General Assembly this spring, all the money raised by the referendum would stay in the area and not be dispersed statewide.

"The net proceeds of the Bonds shall be used exclusively for the purpose of providing funds" for the specified projects, the law reads.

Katherine Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, teamed up with Mr. Lewis and hammered that point home to the nearly 400 people in attendance most of whom seemed to support passage of the measure.

"This referendum returns dollar for dollar to the region. The money raised by Northern Virginia comes back to Northern Virginia," Mrs. Hanley said.

Transportation Secretary Whittington W. Clement, who did not take part in the debate, said afterward that the state would not have the funds to improve transportation in the region without the referendum.

"One hundred percent of all of this money stays in Northern Virginia. There is no other new revenue [that could be used.] This is the best that can be done," he said.

Mr. Parmelee would not say whether he agreed that the law, as written, guaranteed that the funds raised would stay in the area. He said experience with members of the legislature indicates they can and will change their minds.

"It's totally unenforceable right now. There is no way to be sure it will stay here," he said after the debate.

Much of the debate focused on where the money raised would go. Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, joined Mr. Parmelee in the debate. Mr. Schwartz argued that all the money raised should go toward mass-transit options.

"The transit component is completely inadequate," he said, referring to the approximately 40 percent of funds that would go toward rail and mass-transportation projects. "It is completely backwards."

"Buses run on roads, folks," Mrs. Hanley shot back.

A poll released this week indicates Mrs. Hanley and supporters of the referendum have reason to be optimistic: Fifty-two percent of 402 randomly surveyed registered voters said they would vote for the half-percent tax increase, while 39 percent said they opposed it and 9 percent were undecided.

The telephone survey conducted from Sept. 21-24 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

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