- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

RICHMOND — For the second time in a week, a House of Delegates panel has killed legislation to provide millions of dollars for the Washington area’s mass-transit system.

The House Finance Committee voted 10-7 yesterday to table state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple’s bill giving five Northern Virginia localities authority to boost their local option sales-tax rate by 0.25 percent.

The increase would generate $50 million annually if applied in the counties of Arlington and Fairfax and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax.

That would be Virginia’s required share to match $1.5 billion in federal money over 10 years that would be available under a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, for upgrading Metrorail and Metrobus service.

Maryland and the District also would have to come up with $50 million each to match the federal funds. That would make a total of $300 million a year available, allowing Metro to add cars to its heavily used rail-transit system.

Yesterday’s vote on the bill by the full committee was by a wider ratio than its 6-5 defeat by a Finance subcommittee last week. Nevertheless, Finance Committee Chairman Harry J. Parrish, Manassas Republican, brought the bill before the full committee after Mrs. Whipple, Arlington Democrat, agreed to revise it, applying the increase to the local portion of the sales tax, not the state sales tax.

The amended measure also would have required the governing bodies of each of the five localities to hold public hearings before they increase the tax.

The committee’s majority Republicans, however, were not moved.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, voiced concerns about dedicating money to the troubled transit system.

“Right now, the debate is ‘Hurry up, hurry up, let’s draw down this federal money,’ and where the debate ought to be is, ‘Are we reinforcing success?’” Mr. Lingamfelter said. He noted the recent departure of Metro’s general manager with a $238,000 cash severance package and a lifetime yearly pension of $116,000.

“Metro is vital to our region from a mass-transit viewpoint, no question about it, but Metro in recent years has been a disaster,” Mr. Lingamfelter said.

The vote frustrated Metro advocates from Northern Virginia.

“Those who are in overcrowded Metro cars can thank the action of the majority of this committee for assuring those conditions are going to remain the same and not be improved,” said David F. Snyder, a member of the Falls Church City Council.

Mrs. Whipple said there was still an opportunity to include a guaranteed $50 million annual funding source that Mr. Davis’ legislation would require from Virginia in the state budget.

A provision that could still make the $50 million available remains in the Senate version of the state budget, Mrs. Whipple said. She said she hopes it survives lengthy negotiations by House and Senate budget conferees that will begin this week.

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