N.Va. Leaders Lack Consensus on Tax
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Local government officials yesterday joined the chorus of Northern Virginians urging the General Assembly to find money to fix the region's traffic problems, but they were far from unanimous on whether tax increases should be part of the answer.
The split on taxes mirrors the debate among state lawmakers, who will return to Richmond on Sept. 27 to address the state's transportation network. A top priority for Northern Virginia lawmakers is a proposal to raise $417 million a year in local taxes for regional transportation improvements.
Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the state, which builds and maintains nearly all of Virginia's roads, should take the responsibility to find more money for Northern Virginia.
"Local government is mad as a hornet about this bill," Connolly said. "To have zero money from the state on the table is a non-starter. It is a state responsibility."
Connolly spoke during the morning rush outside the bustling Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, where members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority unveiled a wish list of $15.4 billion in improvements to roads and rail over the next 25 years.
Virginia's struggle to fix its underfunded roads and rails froze the General Assembly for six months and helped push the state to the brink of a budget crisis. Nearly everyone agrees that there is a problem, particularly in the Washington region, and that it will take money to fix. But few agree on where that money should come from.
"I'm definitely not asking for a tax increase," said Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "I believe there are ways we can fund this without increasing taxes."
The transportation authority represents nine jurisdictions and is responsible for identifying the region's transportation needs.
"No one responsible thinks there is a free lunch," said Falls Church City Council member David F. Snyder. "But without new money, the conditions will not only not get better, they will worsen."
The speakers, all members of the transportation group, spoke of the need for state lawmakers to find the money to begin paying for such priorities as widening the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66, extending Metrorail to Centreville and Potomac Mills and building a line between Dunn Loring and Bethesda.
Beside them, three lanes of traffic on Interstate 66 East stopped and started. A Metro Orange Line train left the platform toward Washington, its eight cars jammed with riders. Passengers wheeling briefcases or carrying coffee cups bustled along their complicated daily commutes.
"It's a long way," said Lilena Musi, 21, who travels two hours -- by car, train and bus -- from her home in Silver Spring to her job at a law firm in Merrifield.