Pr. William Backs Transportation Tax Plan

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted yesterday to support a regional package of tax and fee increases that would raise more than $300 million a year for local transportation improvements.

With the vote, it now appears that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will have the votes needed to pass the revenue measures when it meets tomorrow. The Prince William vote was key, because the NVTA requires that any tax measure be approved by six of the nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions and by jurisdictions representing at least two-thirds of the region's population.

If Prince William had voted against the tax plan, the entire regional package would have crumbled because Loudoun County is opposing it and together the two growing suburbs total more than a third of the region's population.

The Prince William measure passed 7 to 1.

Now, the NVTA probably will raise taxes on home sales, rental cars, hotel rooms and auto repairs to pay for local road and transit projects ignored in the statewide transportation plan. The NVTA's taxing authority was the result of a last-minute, hard-won compromise between the Republican-led General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who signed the state's first transportation funding bill in 21 years.

The overall plan calls for about $500 million in statewide funding, with an additional $400 million available in Northern Virginia and an additional $200 million in Hampton Roads. Local governments in those two regions must agree to the plan before taxes and fees can be collected to spend on local projects. Under the law, the NVTA can raise as much as $300 million a year, with local governments eligible to raise $100 million.

"It's imperfect, but it's the only solution that we have available," said Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), Prince William's representative to the NVTA and the authority's vice chairman. "In Prince William, no matter what the conversation starts out about, it ends up being about transportation."

Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) added, "Nobody wants to raise taxes, but that's been dumped in our laps."

The board asked Nohe to ensure that any NVTA borrowing not be applied against the county's debt limit or affect its credit rating. The board approved a list of principles that Nohe should keep in mind when deciding on his vote. But the board stopped short of instructing Nohe to vote yes in order to give him additional leverage.

Representatives from Fairfax County, Fairfax City, Manassas, Arlington County, Alexandria and Falls Church are also expected to vote in favor of the package.

With its vote, the Prince William board separated from Loudoun. Each has a large constituency of anti-taxers, but each also has a large constituency demanding new roads and interchanges.

The Loudoun board voted last week to challenge the state transportation plan, arguing that the law that created it violates the state constitution by allowing an appointed panel of local officials, the NVTA, to levy taxes and impose fees on area residents. The supervisors said state officials escaped the politically hard choice of raising taxes by handing off that responsibility to a little-known body that cannot be held accountable at election time.

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