- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

A coalition of anti-tax groups yesterday rallied in Ballston against a referendum that would increase the sales tax in Northern Virginia to fund transportation projects, saying the region already is taxed enough.

About 150 people packed the ballroom of Ballstons Holiday Inn to hear local and national anti-tax leaders urge grass-roots opposition to the sales tax referendum.

"Today is a group huddle. [Tomorrow] you need to go talk to your neighbors who are sitting in the face on congestion and tell them this is the wrong way," said state Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, a Fairfax Republican who won his Senate seat last month by campaigning against the referendum.

"The entire nation is watching you," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "Its like a bad game of 'Jeopardy. The [referendum supporters] say that the answers are always to raise taxes. We have to say no, no, no.

Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions will decide Nov. 5 whether to increase the sales tax a half-cent to pay for road construction and transit projects. A similar ballot measure in Hampton Roads would increase the sales tax there a full cent.

The sales tax increase is expected to raise $5 billion over 20 years in Northern Virginia, which already has created a regional transportation authority to decide how the funds would be shared among the jurisdictions.Supporters of the increase have cited the state budget crisis as making passage of the sales tax referendum an imperative. Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat who has championed the referendum, announced last month that the state faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall and said additional revenue for Northern Virginia is unlikely.

But anti-tax leaders argued during yesterdays daylong conference that the solution to Virginias budget problem lies in cutting spending, not raising taxes.

"A very slight decrease in spending from way, way, way too much [spending] to just way, way too much [spending] would alleviate the situation," suggested Peter Ferrara, president of Virginia Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization."Its a sad commentary when we here in Virginia are taxing as high as those liberals in Maryland," said Steve Moore, national president of the Club for Growth.

Arlington resident James Scarborough said he opposes the referendum because Northern Virginia is taxed enough and is not getting its fair share of taxes returned from Richmond.

"We want a good quality of life, and government is poorly managed. We want to get more value for our dollar," he said.Mr. Scarboroughs sentiments form the core message the anti-tax groups intend to put forward in coming weeks.Meanwhile, referendum opponents made Mr. Cuccinelli, 33, general chairman of efforts to defeat the ballot measure. Details about his duties in that position have not yet been defined.

"Ken Cuccinelli created an earthquake when he overturned the establishment. Lets keep that going," said Delegate Richard Black, Sterling Republican.

Many referendum opponents took pride in Mr. Cuccinellis win last month in the special election to fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Warren G. Barry, a Republican who retired to accept a position in Mr. Warners administration.

Mr. Cuccinelli, a patent lawyer from Centreville, was considered the underdog in the primary and special elections. Anti-tax advocates said his taking a visible role against the referendum will enable them to defeat the forces behind the proposed sales tax increase.

Many of those at yesterdays conference expressed disappointment over Republican leaders in Richmond — several of whom hail from Northern Virginia — for promoting the referendum in the General Assembly in the first place."Enough is enough. The entire Northern Virginia [Republican] delegation doesnt want to listen to the grass roots. Instead they only listen to their development friends," said Oak Hill resident Phil Rodokanakis. "Where are they going with this? Vote for us, and we will tax you less than the Democrats."

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