Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) dealt Northern Virginia leaders a blow today by repeating his ironclad opposition to new transportation taxes, even as he called on his own special task force to "consider any options" when recommending ways to pay for highway improvements.
Gilmore used his monthly WTOP radio talk for a 40-minute discourse against the regional taxes and tolls his commission on transportation suggested Monday as key options for localities struggling to build new roads and to expand bus routes and rail lines.
"I'm not a tax raiser," said Gilmore, who swept into office in 1997 on a promise to abolish Virginia's annual levy on cars and trucks.
"We ought to work a little harder to deal with transportation issues than simply resorting immediately to tax increases," Gilmore added. "Frankly, I don't think that this is a good approach at all.
"I don't think utilizing . . . local taxing organizations and throwing, basically, the working men and women of Northern Virginia to the wolves of tax increases--either by income tax or gas tax increases--I just don't think it's the right policy," Gilmore said.
Gilmore's tough stance, consistent with his pronouncements during a transportation debate that raged across the state in recent months, drew swift criticism from Democratic mayors and county board chairmen around the Capital Beltway and along the Interstate 95 corridor, two of the state's traffic-clogged economic lifelines.
"It's time to get away from the politics of the 'T' word," Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley said.
"If we're not willing to somehow fund these projects, they're not going to become a reality," added Donley, chief advocate with the legislature for the state's municipal league. "At least let the localities have the authority to make their own decision."
Paul F. Ferguson, chairman of the Arlington County Board, said: "Once again, local governments are at the bottom of the food chain. This leaves us without the finances to complete" projects charted for construction through 2020.
During the hour-long radio show, Gilmore reacted to news reports about a work session Monday in Richmond of the transportation commission he appointed in May to scrutinize the way Virginia builds its roads and transit links. On Wednesday, he is to receive the group's interim findings, calling chiefly for solutions that do not involve new taxes but also endorsing options for localities to secure new revenue through special ballot initiatives on taxes and fees.
Gilmore went so far as to criticize a newly formed group of business leaders, led by a number of Washington area executives, who are calling for possible new transportation taxes.
"The business guys and gals have got to remember that, you know, they don't have a lot of credibility if they offer tax increases on people who are not them," Gilmore said. "The people who are in automobiles, who are going to and from jobs, who are trying to make ends meet, are not going to be amused by that."
Any higher tax rate in Northern Virginia's high-technology centers "reduces jobs and makes us uncompetitive," he said.
However, Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, joined the local officials who contend that Gilmore's approach threatened to shut down the engines of Virginia's booming economy, because firms could migrate to communities where their workers are able to get to the office on time.
"I'm afraid that businesses and their work force that are here will think that the state is not taking the issue seriously and will move to another state," Hanley said.
"I'm concerned that Richmond is not hearing that a balanced transportation system . . . is important in the same way we hear it at the local level," Hanley said.
Local officials in areas where there is a congested mix of urban and suburban life said they have to scramble even harder for money such as highway funds, which they argued transcend party label or the anti-tax fervor that helped send Gilmore to the governorship.
"Suburban, urban, rural, Democrats, Republicans, independents--we're being asked to take dwindling resources and stretch them over bigger and bigger service demands," said Richmond Mayor Timothy M. Kaine.
"If the governor's position is to reject popular referendum--the voice of a region--what tools do localities have?" Kaine said. "We end up with very few tools.
"You should not automatically rule out anything," Kaine said. "You just don't progress that way."
CAPTION: Gov. James S. Gilmore III opposes the regional taxes and tolls his panel on transportation suggested.