The running feud between some Northern Virginia legislators and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors over a regional gasoline tax to fund Metro exploded at a legislative hearing today.
Fairfax Sen. Adelard L. Brault, dean of the region's legislative delegation, and Board Chairman John F. Herrity clashed sharply at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing over whether the money raised from the proposed 4 percent gasoline tax should be distributed to the region's localities or directly to Metro via the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Brault has proposed sending half the money to the commission and half to the local governments. Herrity argued today that Brault's plan would shortchange Fairfax by at least $1.7 million a year and said the county board favored no tax at all to Brault's plan.
"What you're saying is if you don't have it exactly the way the Fairfax governing body wants it, the the hell with the taxpayers," said Brault.
"I didn't say that," Herrity, a Republican retorted. He said outside the hearing room, "I think Fairfax is tired of being the Santa Claus of the region when it comes to Metro."
The controversy revolves around a bill, proposed by Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) and already passed by the House, that would funnel all of the estimated $22 to $31 million raised annually from the regional tax directly to the transit commission. The county board has argued that since Fairfax residents rely more on automobile travel than their counterparts in the close-in Virginia suburbs, they would be paying a disproportionately high share of the gasoline tax.
To soothe their objections, Brault and the region's eight other senators agreed to compromise with a 50-50 split. They have also lined up support from the Arlington and Alexandria governing bodies.
Stambaugh so far has refused to endorse the plan and has even threatened to kill the bill if it is amended by Brault. He argued today that his proposal called for a tax "not on Fairfax County but on the region for a specific regional purpose in which we are all partners and the money should go back to that partnership" -- in other words, to the commission.
But while Brault warned Stambaugh that "politics is the art of the possible," he and the other senators saved most of their fire for Herrity.
Alexandria Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell called the Fairfax position "highly unusual." Fairfax Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan went a bit further, labeling it "irresponsible," and adding "that point of view represents a great deal of ignorance about the legislative process."