A proposal to raise the sales tax in Northern Virginia by 1 cent to pay for Metro rail operating costs and other mass transportation needs was killed yesterday by a House of Delegates committee.
"Without a general, broad-based way to fund this enormous transportation undertaking . . . it's eventually going to break us." said Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) before the 10-to-9 vote. "It's destroying us . . ."
The failure of the sales tax proposal, which was supported by nearly all officials from Northern Virginia jurisdictions, leaves as the only option for alleviating the pressure of Metro costs a 4 percent gasoline sales tax proposal now before a State Senate committee.
The gasoline tax proposal, a repeat of a similar measure passed two years ago by the General Assembly, has two main disadvantages, according to Sen. Omer Hirst (D-Fairfax), chief sponsor of the sales tax bill. It would require unanimous approval among the five Northern Virginia jurisdictions before it could be enacted, and Fairfax City has opposed it. In addition, it would raise only about $11 million-a-year, or one-third of the approximately $34 million-a-year the sales tax would have produced.
"The gas tax offers only partial relief," Hirst said after yesterday's committee vote, "But it's all that remains so we'll have to take a look at it."
House Finance committee chairman Del. Archie Camobell (D-Wythe), who said before voting against the sales tax increase that "no bill this session has been more difficult for me," said he would support amendments to the gas tax measure eliminating the unanimity requirement.
Campbell opposed the sales proposal, he said because "this is not a tax on transportation purposes . . . it's marked departure from what this state had done in the past." He said that allowing one locality a special sales tax would encourage a proliferation of such taxes, when the sales tax, along with the income tax, are prerogatives of the state.
The primary revenue sources for localities are the property tax and business tax, which are higher in Noerthern Virginia than anywhere else in the state. Proponents of the sales tax increase argued that revenue produced in this way would reduce the burden on the property tax and lead to a reduction in it and the business license tax. During the committee meeting the sales proposal was amended to require such a reduction in proportion to the income produced.
The sales tax increase could have been levied if approved by elected representatives of 90 percent of the 850,000 residents of the Northern Virginia transportation region. This would prevent one jurisdiction from sabotaging the tax, as Fairfax City did with the gasoline sales tax revenue would have gone toward Metro rail operating deficits and one-third, under an amendment approved yesterday, would have gone back to each locality in proportion to the amount it raised.
Currently one-half of the 4 percent sales tax goes back to localities on the basis of school age population. A recent study, cited often by proponents of the measure that would have added another penny to the tax rate, found that Northern Virginia residents are producing more revenue from both sales and income taxes than other areas of the state due to the high income level in the area. The study also found that Northern Virginia sends more revenue than it gets back. The difference is far greater than in any other area, the study found.
". . . We keep driving daggers into the backs of the citizens of Northern Virginia who are already subsidizing others in the rest of the state," said Del. Ray L. Garland (R. Roanoke), who supported the bill.
In regard to the vote, Hirst said only, "I hope some of our friends from metropolitan areas would be more understanding," an apparent reference to several Tidewater area legislators who voted against the measure. One Northern Virginian, Martin H. Perper (R-Fairfax) was absent due to illness, but even if he had been present the vote would have been a tie and the bill would not have survived.
The death of the sales tax kills one of the major hopes of Northern Virginians for this General Assembly, which is now in its last week.
In another development, lobbyists for the Equal Rights Amendment said yesterday they were dropping their efforts to persuade legislators this year in order to concentrate on convincing congressmen it should extend the March 19789 deadline for ratification of the proposed Constitutiional Amendment.
later in the day they said they had petitioned the Speaker of the House of Delegates for a rules change that would force the ERA to a floor vote. Marianne Fowler, one of the lobbyists, said there was nothing in the Virginia Constitution that prevents citizens from seeking such a change without a request from a member of the House. Speaker John Warren Cooke has yet to rule on the request.
Spokeswoman Jean Marshall Clarke said one reason the lobbying efforts were being dropped is that pro-ERA legislators had given up. "The major interests of our country have hypocritically given lip service to the ERA while sabotaging its ratification by political deals, trade-offs and do-nothingness," she said in a prepared statement.
A bill that would prohibit localities from passing ordinances requiring deposits on soft drink containers was revived yesterday. The measure, which was sent to the Senate floor by the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, contains a clause that would exempt fairfax and Loudoun Counties, where such ordinances are in effect.
The measure was revived when Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomac) changed his mind for the second time. He had voted against the bill last week after getting a letter from NewPort Mayor Joseph C. Ritchie urging him to do so.