by Eric M. Weiss and Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post

20 January 2007, p. A1

“Elected leaders of two of the fastest-growing counties in the region say they are unlikely to approve the transportation plan proposed this week by Republicans in the General Assembly, which would raise taxes and fees to pay for road and transit improvements.

“Members of the boards of supervisors in Loudoun and Prince William counties said they would not vote to raise taxes locally — especially if they don’t control how much of the money would be spent, as the plan dictates. The possible rejection in those counties, where growth and traffic congestion are top priorities, could stall progress on a transportation deal during the General Assembly session.

“The GOP proposal, announced with considerable fanfare Thursday, includes allowing Northern Virginia jurisdictions to raise and spend $383 million a year for transportation projects. Some of the money would return to the counties, and some would go directly to Metro. About half would be spent by a regional transportation authority. The authority could spend the money anywhere in Northern Virginia, and it might not go back to Prince William or Loudoun.

“Local jurisdictions would have to agree to increase local taxes and fees or be cut out of the deal. Without Loudoun and Prince William, the pool of money would be drastically lower.

“Both county boards recently halted re-zonings to send a message to Richmond that lawmakers need to act this year to ease traffic congestion. But supervisors said the GOP proposal puts the onus back on them.

” ‘This allows us to raise taxes on our own citizens to build roads, and we have already done this,’ said Corey A. Stewart (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. ‘This is going to provide us extremely little relief of any kind and does almost nothing for Prince William. . . . We have already been raising money through bonding and servicing those bonds through taxes. We’ve already been doing Richmond’s job.’

“Loudoun Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) agreed. ‘We send enough to Richmond,’ he said. ‘Why don’t they send us more money back?’

“State legislators said they are giving local officials what they sought. ‘It’s a little disingenuous for them to ask us to raise taxes, for them to have local transportation needs, and not to raise taxes themselves,’ said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), a key negotiator of the plan.

“The transportation deal has major political ramifications across Virginia. The debate comes in a year in which the entire legislature and all of the county supervisors are up for election. Fearing that an increasingly Democratic Northern Virginia could cost them their majorities in the Senate and House of Delegates, Republicans in Richmond huddled for weeks to come up with a compromise that balances transportation needs against an aversion to tax increases.

“Local officials also have to face voters this fall and are reluctant to vote for taxes when they cannot tell constituents where all the money would go. In the end, both groups will have to weigh voters’ demands for transportation solutions against higher taxes.

“In addition to the local tax increases, the plan also dedicates half of future surpluses to transportation projects and diverts $250 million from other state programs starting in 2008. The state would borrow $1.3 billion in 2008 and an additional $700 million in 2012, repaying the debt with money raised through the plan. Taxes on diesel fuel would rise, fees to register heavy trucks would increase and drivers with bad records would pay higher fines.

“Locally, Northern Virginia would raise $383 million and Hampton Roads $209 million each year. The Northern Virginia plan includes a new fee when buying a car, higher rental car taxes and higher taxes on commercial real estate, legislators said.

“Fairfax County officials also expressed concerns about the GOP transportation package, although they stopped considerably short of rejecting it.

” ‘We may be uncomfortable’ with the commercial real estate tax increase, said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D). ‘At least we’ve got something on the table.’

“Still, Fairfax leaders noted state lawmakers’ willingness to help localities raise taxes when the legislators steadfastly refused last year. ‘The irony to this whole issue is the General Assembly doesn’t want to raise taxes, but it’s okay if we raise taxes,’ said Fairfax Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville).

“Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) said Loudoun and Prince William are ‘more Republican, so their position is going to be “We don’t want to raise taxes.” But I don’t see a way out of this unless we all agree that some type of tax increase is necessary.’

” ‘This is a regional issue that needs to be resolved not in a political way, but in the best interest of the region from an economic standpoint,’ he said.

“Outer-county leaders said they are not necessarily opposed to raising taxes on their constituents for transportation — that is what they have done over the past few years as road money from Richmond has dried up.

“Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I) said it is unlikely that his fellow members would agree to increase taxes, even though their constituents are mired in gridlock. York made his comments while stuck in traffic on Waxpool Road.

“He said his colleagues would ‘have to take a long, hard look and ask themselves whether or not we want to solve what we’ve been griping about for’ the past 10 years.

“If this opportunity is squandered, York said, it will probably be ‘another 10 years before we get any help.’ “