- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Northern Virginia leaders yesterday told Gov. Timothy M. Kaine that the Republican-driven transportation deal must be amended so that the state, not localities, shoulders more of the financial and political burden of building new roads.

Elected officials from Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties complained that the plan primarily relies on allowing Northern Virginia localities to raise about $400 million for roads if they agree to raise local taxes and fees, but that it offers little in additional state assistance.

The officials suggested the state should assume the responsibility of charging a proposed $100 fee on most Northern Virginians seeking their first driver’s license and remove language in the plan that requires localities to maintain secondary roads if they join the proposed regional taxing authority. Republicans say the language can be fixed.

Elected leaders also recommended lowering the proposed tax increase on commercial real estate, saying they fear the increase could hurt the same regional economy that serves as a financial engine for the state.

They said that loss could be offset with the additional taxing options contained in the proposed Hampton Roads’ regional plan, which includes the ability to raise the local gasoline tax.

“The same sources of revenue for Hampton Roads ought to be made available for Northern Virginia,” Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said after meeting behind closed doors with Mr. Kaine in Fairfax.

Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said that if Mr. Kaine became more willing to use more general-fund revenue — primarily state sales and income taxes — for transportation, then the General Assembly should consider “as a compromise” a statewide gasoline tax increase that would return the money to the localities where the funds originated.

“We cannot stomach any longer a failure here,” Mr. Stewart said. “We are desperate. It is damaging our quality of life and it is hurting our economic-development prospects as well.”

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York said that his primary concern is that the revenue raised in his county through the new taxing options would stay in the county. Mr. York said he also is concerned that “currently, the mix is 100 percent for us to raise and zero on the state.”

“From my perspective, the state needs to be a 50-50 partner in this,” he said.

Mr. Kaine’s visit yesterday was the first leg of a three-day statewide tour, which also includes stops in Roanoke and Hampton Roads. He hopes that meeting with officials in those areas will give him a better understanding of how he can amend the plan without killing it.

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

Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, said the upcoming elections have created the best possible political climate for Mr. Kaine to make good on his campaign pledge of fixing transportation. He said Mr. Kaine would destroy that atmosphere if he tries to insert a statewide tax increase. All 140 House and Senate seats are up for election in November.

“The only reason we are here right now is the magic of an election year,” he said.

Under the plan, the state would borrow $2.5 billion over the next eight years for road and rail projects. The bonds would be paid off over 30 years with close to $200 million a year in general operating funds that have primarily been used for schools, police and social services. The plan also depends on an additional $10 on car registrations — the only increase that would affect all Virginians.

However, the bulk of the plan and its success depends on regional packages that give the most congested parts of the state the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation.

“If these regional packages disappear because these local officials will not impose them, there is no real transportation solution that comes out of this bill,” Mr. Kaine said yesterday. “Nobody is going to be happy if we have a 105-page bill with no implementation.”

Northern Virginia’s package allows for a 2 percent tax on car rentals, a 2 percent hotel and motel tax, a fee of $100 on those 20 years or older seeking their first driver’s license, a levy on people who sell their homes and a commercial real estate tax.

Hampton Roads also could impose the car-rental fee, the home-sellers’ levy and a commercial property, tax along with a $10 boost in annual vehicle-licensing and vehicle-inspection fees, a 5 percent tax on car repairs, a 1 percent initial vehicle-registration fee and a gasoline-tax increase. That would generate about $200 million a year beginning in 2009.

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