The Question:

"Shall an additional sales and use tax of one-half of one percent be imposed in Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Fairfax, the City of Falls Church, the City of Manassas, and the City of Manassas Park, with the revenues to be used solely for regional transportation projects and programs as specified in Chapter 853 of the Acts of Assembly of 2002?"

Background:

The sales tax, now 4 1/2 cents per dollar, was last raised in 1986, when a half-cent was added to support transportation programs. This spring, the General Assembly passed a bill that authorized Tuesday's referendum in Northern Virginia, and it was signed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). A separate law authorized a referendum on a one-cent increase for transportation projects in the Hampton Roads area.

What It Buys:

Supporters say the tax increase will raise $5 billion over 20 years to pay for transit and road programs. The law authorizing the referendum allocates $2.8 billion for specific projects. They include transit in the Dulles corridor; commuter rail car purchases; and various road improvements to Routes 1, 7, 28, 29 and 234, the Fairfax County Parkway, Tri-County/Loudoun County Parkway, and Interstates 66, 95, 395 and 495.

Who

Spends It:

The tax money would go to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a new regional agency created by the state. The authority's 14 voting members include the chief elected officers of each county and city in the region.

Proponents

Say:

Because Northern Virginia's traffic congestion problems are among the worst in the nation, the region must begin to make its own decisions about transportation improvements. The tax is important to the entire region's prosperity and would help the environment.

Opponents

Say:

The tax is nothing more than a gift to big developers seeking a new source of government spending to expand the region's road and transit network and open up more areas for housing, office and shopping center construction.