- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Officials in Northern Virginia, criticizing the Republican-written transportation bill, say they should not be responsible for raising local taxes if it results in the additional burden of paying for new secondary roads.

“Northern Virginia is getting [shortchanged] right now,” said Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart, a Republican. “It produces 40 percent of revenue and receives only 17 percent of highway construction funds. We need the state to step up and take care of its responsibility.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, agreed. “Right now, this bill is not workable. It’s a wholesale transfer of responsibility from the state to the localities. That is how they get around not raising taxes.”

Mr. Stewart and Mr. Connolly today will be among the Northern Virginia officials who are expected to meet with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in Fairfax to discuss the plan. The plan gives Northern Virginia localities the ability to raise about $400 million a year for local projects through new taxes and fees.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has said he opposes the plan.

“Everyone expects all the Democrats to get behind the governor,” Mr. Stewart said. “We will get behind him if he offers up a real solution. A real solution would not be to offer up a modified bill that he knows the legislature is going to refuse.”

Mr. Kaine’s visit to Northern Virginia is the first leg of a three-day tour that will give him the chance to meet with leaders in Roanoke, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and gauge how he will put his stamp on the plan.

The General Assembly will consider Mr. Kaine’s amendments in a one-day session April 4.

Already, officials in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have said they do not support the plan, which includes a provision that if localities approve new local taxes, then those localities may be required to pay for secondary roads currently planned and funded by the state.

Mr. Connolly said that provision is a tough pill to swallow.

For Fairfax, the plan would generate $48 million for local roads, while saddling the jurisdiction with $100 million in new costs associated with secondary roads, Mr. Connolly said. That equates to an additional 3 cents on the current tax rate, he said.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said Mr. Connolly has a legitimate gripe that was lost because of thespeed in which the bill was approved. He said the legislature probably could amend the bill to ensure local officials the state’s contribution toward secondary roads would not dwindle over time, he said.

“The goal is to allow the localities to do the secondary road construction, but the problem is we have to guarantee the money will still come from Richmond,” he said.

Fairfax County Supervisor Michael R. Frey, a Republican, said he is “unwilling to consider taking over the secondary road system.”

“Nobody has a clue what [lawmakers] did, that is part of the problem,” Mr. Frey said. “If you ask a state senator, they will tell you one thing, and then if you ask a member of the House of Delegates they will tell you another.”

Prince William County officials say that, since the 2004 tax increase, state lawmakers already should have enough money for transportation if they consider it a top priority.

“Northern Virginians are already paying their unfair share of taxes,” Mr. Stewart said. “Adding an additional surcharge on top of that unfair share would be unjust.”

Political insiders say Mr. Connolly and Republican lawmakers will continue to discuss reworking the unpopular provision that would require localities to start shouldering the costs of new secondary roads.

Under the plan, the state would borrow $2.5 billion over the next eight years to jump-start road projects. The bonds would be paid off over 30 years, with $184 million a year in general operating funds that have primarily paid for schools, police and social services. The plan also depends on an additional $10 on car registrations.

Mr. Kaine has said the plan is flawed because it does not do enough for rural Virginia, provides minimal relief for the most congested parts of the state and siphons dollars that have primarily been used for core services such as education. He has previously proposed new statewide taxes, as an alternative to using general fund dollars.

Republicans argue that the plan relies on less than 1 percent of the general fund.

The disagreement has fueled a public relations battle between Republicans and Democrats, as all 140 members of the General Assembly are up for re-election this fall.

Mr. Kaine’s statewide tour is his latest attempt to generate opposition to the plan. Meanwhile, Republicans are running a television ad that criticizes Mr. Kaine for backing off on his campaign pledge of not raising taxes.

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