Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Some Northern Virginia lawmakers said the state’s two-year, $60 billion budget takes a lot from the region’s taxpayers but gives back disproportionate funding for the region’s services.

The budget is built on a $1.38 billion revenue plan that raises the sales tax by one half-cent, the cigarette tax to 30 cents per pack and the tax on real estate transactions to 25 cents per $100 of value.

Northern Virginia pays a hefty portion of those taxes, some lawmakers say.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said Fairfax County will receive 7.4 percent of the funding for education under the budget, even though the county is home to 14 percent of the state’s 7.3 million residents and represents 16 percent of sales taxes, 25 percent of the real estate recordation taxes and 27 percent of income taxes.

Other lawmakers argue the budget contains more money for the state’s colleges and health care services and sets aside enough money to fund a cut in local property taxes.

Half of the revenue from the sales-tax increase — about $377 million — will go to a special fund that local governments can use for education or to lower property taxes.

Fairfax County will receive a $31 million payment from the fund.

Still, Mr. Albo said the budget gives Northern Virginia “nothing to brag about.”

“Usually the way the state solves problems is calling up rich Uncle Fairfax,” he said. “But you can’t keep going to the well and asking for more money. Northern Virginia is not a place where everyone drives a BMW and makes a lot of money.”

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, said the state has to stop thinking of Northern Virginia as a “cash cow.”

However, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan said the state is legally bound to have richer areas support the poor areas. The Fairfax County Republican said Northern Virginia fared well in the budget.

“We’re getting a substantial amount of new money,” Mr. Callahan said. “We certainly made out equitably.”

The extra money from the sales-tax increase would allow Fairfax County officials to reduce the property-tax rate by 2 cents, Mr. Callahan said. The current rate is $1.16 per $100 of assessed value.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, gives the budget an overall grade of a “B,” and said Northern Virginia fared better than average.

“It’s very good for the state and good enough for Northern Virginia,” said Mr. Moran, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “The end result turned out to be pretty fair and an improvement.”

Mr. Moran applauded the increased education funding. He also said Northern Virginia will benefit “substantially” more than other regions because of increased funding for health and human services.

Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites, Fairfax County Republican, said the budget also sets aside more money for public safety and higher education.

More money for colleges means more room for students from Northern Virginia, she said, and more money to expand prisons means the region will be safer.

“That will clearly help Northern Virginia as well,” she said.

Transportation was left mostly unfunded in the budget, but lawmakers hope to address it next year.

The budget compromise was forged when lawmakers agreed to freeze the state’s popular car-tax-relief program indefinitely. The state’s payments to localities for the car-tax relief will be capped at $950 million a year. As car prices and the number of cars increase, localities are likely to raise car-tax bills.

Mr. Albo, Mr. Lingamfelter, Mr. Callahan and Mrs. Devolites opposed the car-tax cap, saying it would hurt Northern Virginia because the region has more drivers with expensive cars than other parts of the state.

“The car tax was the last thing left in the entire package that would bring some dollars back to Northern Virginia,” Mrs. Devolites said.

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