Two key Fairfax County Republicans tried to sharpen the party's message on transportation issues today, saying all funding options--including higher taxes--ought to be considered immediately to combat traffic congestion in Northern Virginia.
State Sen. Jane H. Woods and Del. John H. "Jack" Rust Jr. held a news conference to set a priority list of transportation projects, starting with the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the overhaul of Springfield's "Mixing Bowl" interchange.
Woods said those improvements should come before any additional lanes on the Capital Beltway. "Our focus should be on projects that give us the most bang for our buck in terms of reducing commute times," she said. "I do not believe the widening of the Beltway is one of those projects."
Woods, who is in the reelection fight of her career, drew fire last week from Democrats and local business leaders after she signed a national "taxpayer protection pledge." That pledge seemed to put her on the record as opposing any new fees or taxes that could be used to ease the enormous traffic woes in the Washington suburbs.
On July 13, Woods was among 16 lawmakers--seven Republicans and nine Democrats--who pleaded in a letter to Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) for relief for Northern Virginia. "Additional transit, expanded and new roadways, more bridges, the use of advanced technology and yes, a dedicated revenue source to pay for these solutions--everything must be on the table," they wrote.
Rust, who did not sign the anti-tax pledge sponsored by the Americans for Tax Reform, said today, "All options should be on the table for funding."
The Woods-Rust event was the most recent episode in what is fast becoming the dominant topic of conversation in Northern Virginia races for General Assembly seats in the Nov. 2 elections.
Gilmore has weighed in on the subject, forming a new study commission and reemphasizing his opposition to tax increases. Twelve days ago, Democratic Party leaders offered their own program for a massive infusion of transit money without raising taxes.
The debate, waged in candidate forums and business round tables across the region, has put GOP candidates on the spot, as they have tried to walk the line between no new taxes and commuter relief. For many Republicans along the Beltway, that has meant a grudging realization of the need for creative financing for new roads.
"For all of us, we have to leave everything on the table," Woods said later in a telephone interview. "What we know now is there's not enough money to fund the $1 billion a year in needs for Northern Virginia."
In 1997, when Gilmore was elected governor, "the issue was not on the tip of people's tongues the way it is now," Woods added.
Fairfax City Mayor John Mason, who runs as a nonpartisan candidate, said in a joint statement with Woods: "Our citizens must be able to commute to and from work and run simple errands in a reasonable amount of time and have a reasonable idea of how long it will take."
While agreeing with the GOP premise about the need for quick relief, Democrats pounced on Woods, saying her signing the anti-tax pledge was inconsistent with her call for costly new traffic improvements.
"This is the most self-inflicted wound since George Bush said, 'Read my lips,' " said Democratic state Senate candidate Leslie L. Byrne, a former delegate and a former Congress member who is trying to unseat Woods and has been matching her in fund-raising.
"She's either telling a big fib to the no-tax people or a big fib to people who want all options on the table," Byrne said.
Craig K. Bieber, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Woods "must be terribly worn out taking things on and off the table."