WHILE THEIR COUNTERPARTS in Annapolis revel in a budget surplus big enough to cover the state's transportation bills for a good while, Northern Virginia lawmakers in pursuit of transit money might well lose their shirts in a high-stakes tax game dragging on and on in Richmond. Every day, some committee or clique either holds up, shoots down or retools a version of a tax bill, leaving the Northern Virginia legislators in a new or revisited state of confusion. And the longer the suspense over an outcome, the more likely the chance that any semblance of a united front will crumble.

But regardless of which tax proposals happen to be where at this hour, there are two points on which Northern Virginia's senators, delegates and local governments should stand united and firm: 1) only after the General Assembly approves a bill providing money for Metro should Northern Virginia members agree to vote for any taxes to finance highway projects; and 2) internal warring over which governmental bodies will handle any revenues for Metro should stop at least for the duration of the General Assembly session.

Neither of these moves guarantees results, but they are essential to any successful outcome. A tough, no Metro/no-highways stand is imperative if any of the lawmakers from around the state seriously do want roads projects paid for this year. If they want Northern Virginia's vote, they should be willing first to approve a measure that merely would give this part of the state permission to tax itself for Metro.

Meanwhile, the local governments should quit trying to second-guess or undercut the various moves of the Northern Virginia delegation in Richmond. For example, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors already has been demanding that all tax proceeds go to the localities and not the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. This prompted Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) to note that the supervisors were "incredibly greedy. . . . If they want all or nothing, they'll get the latter." That's what we call fair warning.