Rallies, Fliers On N.Va. Tax Exhort Voters In Last Hours
By Lisa Rein and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 5, 2002; Page B01
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) made a final dash across Northern Virginia yesterday to win approval of the transportation tax on today's ballot, while slow-growth and anti-tax activists urged voters to find other solutions to the region's traffic congestion.
Political leaders and grass-roots volunteers from Alexandria to Prince William County shook hands and gave out fliers at Metro stops, planted signs along highways and reached out to voters through telephone banks and at rallies on the last day of a still-close campaign that had no candidate but no shortage of passion on both sides.
"There comes a time when we need to roll up our sleeves, put partisanship aside and find a solution to our traffic problems that's viable," Warner told 150 supporters at a noontime rally in his home town of Alexandria.
"It's only a half-cent," said the governor, the most visible champion of the proposed half-cent-per-dollar increase in the sales tax rate. "While any tax is a burden, it will be fairly small. It's our best possible solution right now."
Warner also made a brief stop yesterday morning at a rally in Old Town Manassas, in Prince Williams County.
Tax opponents, less centrally organized and less well financed than the pro-tax campaign, fanned out across the Washington suburbs, starting at 7 a.m. with an appeal to commuters at the Vienna Metro station.
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax), a leader of the anti-tax forces, paced the station entrances, handing out fliers until he had no more and then simply shouting into the wind for people to vote against the measure.
"We do need to do something about transportation . . . but this is a continuation of a failed method," Cuccinelli told Jini Mohanty, an undecided voter in her thirties who stopped to talk. Across Interstate 66 at the other end of the station, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) urged voters to support the tax measure.
Tax proponents, who include most of the region's local and state political leaders, say an increase in the sales tax rate would help Northern Virginia solve its transportation problems. Supporters say the half-cent increase, raising the rate to 5 cents per dollar, would generate $5 billion over 20 years to finance highway and public transit projects. The higher tax rate would apply to retail sales, including restaurant meals, but not to food or prescription drugs.
The referendum is on the ballot in nine counties and cities in the Washington suburbs, with the result determined by a majority of the vote.
Environmentalists and slow-growth advocates say the higher tax rate would benefit real estate developers who want to build more roads across the suburbs, adding to sprawl.
Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth has worked for six months to convince voters that growth controls are the only way to ease traffic.
"We win no matter what happens [today] because this has become an issue about sprawl and smart growth," Schwartz said.
"If the decision is to approve the tax, we are going to hold officials to the promises they are making," he said.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company