BY A 10-TO-8 VOTE, a House of Delegates committee in Richmond has taken the cue from a wrongheaded Gov. John N. Dalton and killed Northern Virginia's attempt to shift its tax burden away from property taxes. The message from Richmond to taxpayers in this part of Virginia -- who always send more money to the state treasury than they get back -- is that they are denied permission to impose a salestax increase on themselves to help finance transportation projects, including the Metro rail system. As Del. Raymond L. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax) said after the committee vote, Gov. Dalton "created an atmosphere from the very first which made it difficult as a political matter for us to bring the kind of rational consideration" to the bill that it deserved.

The result? Northern Virginians -- to whom Gov. Dalton made campaign pitches about taxpayers' resistance to higher property taxes -- face further pressures on their real-estate levies. They also may find the Metro rail system in more trouble -- since this tax measure was sought to establish a fund guaranteeing payment of transit operating costs. U.S. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams has told Metro officials that the federal government's allocation of transit grants will favor localities that have earmarked money.

Mr. Adams has been sympathetic to the fiscal difficulties this region has faced in completing the Metro rail system, and his patience and understanding will be all the more necessary now. Northern Virginia's delegation surely will have to try again in Richmond next year. In the meantime, those members of the General Assembly who were so free with their tax advice to Northern Virginia could demonstrate some minimum understanding of the state's transportation needs by supporting better state financing of Metro. So far, all we've heard from Richmond are misleading figures on the state's past support of Metro -- amounts that have been bloated by including federal money, transfers of highway funds and so on. Opponents of the tax-request legislation -- including those state lawmakers who still revel in socking it to Northern Virginia out of some narrow regional bias -- should realize that an efficient public transportation system in one part of the state can help to generate new wealth -- which means more money flowing into the state treasury -- for distribution statewide.