Vote Puts N.Va. in a Bind, Officials Say
Lawmakers See Challenge in Finding Funds for Dulles Corridor, Other Projects
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 6, 2002; Page B01
Northern Virginia's political and business establishment vowed last night to renew the search for solutions to traffic gridlock but gloomily predicted little chance of success as they reeled from the defeat of the transportation tax.
Yesterday's rejection of the referendum they had championed forces the state's lawmakers and struggling road-building bureaucracy to confront the consequences of the region's growth without billions of new dollars over the next two decades. Corporate leaders portrayed the sales-tax measure as vital to protecting the region's quality of life and the climate for business and job growth.
"You are facing an implosion of our economy," said David Guernsey, owner of a Fairfax County-based office supply company. "That's maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but there is real concern. We are running out of time with this thing. But it's a very complex argument, and we couldn't reduce it to sound bites."
Just as stunned by the results, opponents of the tax increase proclaimed a new day in Virginia politics -- one where developers will no longer control so tightly the outcome of elections and where local and state officials will have to address traffic by considering new strategies for managing growth and sprawl.
They called on Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and other political and business leaders to join them in pursuing new solutions today, a process they hope will continue when the General Assembly convenes in January.
"It's a huge win for smart growth, a huge win for the end of the domination of the political environment by the development industry," said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council. "We took on 20-to-1 odds in funding and the entire political establishment, and we won."
Miller, who helped lead the fight against a Walt Disney theme park in Prince William County in the 1990s, added: "We've worked very hard since Disney to try to make [sprawl] a focal point of decision-making in Northern Virginia and the state. We see this as a huge step forward."
Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), who supported the tax increase, dismissed that argument as empty rhetoric.
"It sounds nice, but I don't know what it means," he said, arguing that Fairfax already has employed "smart growth" strategies. The region needs more transportation money, he said, but "when we go down to Richmond with the tin cup in our hands, we are going to have a much tougher go about it."
By voting down the sales tax increase, Northern Virginians also rejected the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which was created to manage road and transit building in the region with the new sales tax proceeds. Some officials said they doubted the new agency would mean much without any money to spend.
Instead, the burden for addressing one of the nation's worst traffic problems will still rest with Virginia Department of Transportation, a 10,100-person agency that has controlled transportation planning, design, financing and construction in most Virginia communities for more than seven decades.
The department has experienced a cash crisis during the last four years that threatened its ability to pay the bills. In February, Warner derided VDOT's road-building plan as little more than a "wish list," and in May, he slashed it by one-third, eliminating nearly $3 billion in promised road and transit projects.
During the campaign, Warner said the agency was under new leadership and well on its way to being fixed. But others say VDOT is still underfunded and poorly managed. As of Monday, the department reported that 63 percent of its construction projects were behind schedule and 33 percent were over budget.
"To get the kind of funding the referendum would have raised would require you to take every single primary and highway dollar from the rest of the state . . . and bring it up here," said John Milliken, the president of Citizens for Better Transportation. "It's not going to happen."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Stewart Schwartz of Coalition for Smarter Growth, far right, celebrates with other tax foes at an Arlington restaurant.
(Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
_____Sales Tax Ref._____
Business Groups In N.Va. Form PACs (The Washington Post, Nov 20, 2002)
Va. Still Seeks Transportation Solutions (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2002)
Businesses Worry About Impact (The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2002)
Warner Sets Sights Beyond Tax Defeat (The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2002)
Resounding 'No' Sends A Message to Leaders (The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2002)