THERE ARE NO GREAT RIPPLES of anticipation as Virginia's 140 state legislators prepare for the opening of the 1979 General Assembly on Jan. 10, for this is the year of the "short" session -- the legislative catch up before the members stand for election in the fall. That's generally not a time for monumental controversy or legislative innovation (is there ever a time for this in Virginia?), although usually there is important state business to be taken care of during these off-year sessions. As in other state legislatures around the country, the assembly must tend to financial matters: adjustments in the state budget, responses to taxpayer resistance and -- a pleasant twist -- how to spend a potential surplus. And as in Annapolis, there will be an important effort to seek state help in financing the Metro system -- which will look to Gov. John N. Dalton for crucial understanding and support.
The effort by Northern Virginia's legislative delegation stems from the unanimous agreement of local leaders in this metropolitan area to seek taxes dedicated to help pay for Metro's capital and operating costs. Members are getting ready to try again for permission from Richmond to raise the sales tax in Northern Virginia from 4 percent to 5 percent and to earmark the additional percentage point to transportation projects. Lest other state lawmakers get the wrong impression, this is not a matter of creating a separate regional tax-raising authority or a "raid" on Virginia money by out-of-state interests. Metro is a vital part of Virginia's transportation system -- and what the legislators from this area are seeking is a chance to shift their own tax burden away from property tax rates. And they need a go-ahead from Richmond this year.
In his successful campaign for governor last year, John Dalton recognized the strong taxpayer resistance in Northern Virginia to any more pressures on property taxes. Yet the voters of this area do support completion of Virginia's sections of the rail system as a necessary part of an efficient transportation system.