The big No

It will be a long time before Virginians north, south, east or west will be asked to go to the polls and approve a tax increase. That concept, while seemingly popular in some circles on Capitol Square in Richmond, was killed by an overwhelming majority in Northern Virginia and in Hampton Roads as voters refused to raise their region’s sales tax to pay for new roads.

Despite growing gridlock on our highways and a highly financed and orchestrated campaign to encourage Northern Virginians to approve a half cent increase in the region’s sales tax, voters turned it down 55 percent to 45 percent. It was worse in Hampton Roads where nearly two-thirds of the voters turned against the transportation tax.

Despite the favorable opinion polls, big name supporters, mass advertising and newspaper endorsements, Northern Virginians made it clear when they went to the polls Tuesday. Traffic is a problem, but this problem in no way overrides the region’s resistance to increased taxes.

The tax increase would have provided a stream of money dedicated to building more roads and rails in Northern Virginia. Voters, however, don’t necessarily want more roads or rail lines they want relief from traffic congestion and this plan was not the proper solution.

The sales tax referendum was an ambitious plan to build more roads leveraging sales tax money toward $5 billion in bonds. That is still a lot of money in this day and age but considering the problems which plague Virginia’s transportation department, the voters did not trust the government with more of their money.

Del. Jack Rollison, who with Gov. Mark Warner laid a lot of political capital on the line in support of the referendum, saw Tuesday’s results as the public’s continued skepticism toward the state government a state government which hasn’t always made the most out of its transportation resources.

“I think it failed because people did not trust state government to do what it said it would do,” Rollison said as election results rolled in Tuesday night.

Opponents of the referendum were probably not celebrating as much as some would have predicted. With the sales tax vote pushed aside, lawmakers on both sides will be forced to go back to Richmond in search of a consensus in addressing Northern Virginia’s transportation needs.

“[The voters] really do want the legislators to go back to Richmond and fix the underlying problems,” Del. Scott Lingamfelter, a staunch referendum opponent, said after the vote.

Lingamfelter’s words will most likely be the theme of January’s General Assembly session. But words are one thing and actions are another. It will take a strong Northern Virginia delegation with the Rollisons working with the Lingamfelters and the Marshalls working with the Parrishes to get things done.

Northern Virginia still has a traffic mess, the state is still in rough financial shape and there is no consensus yet on how to fix either problem.

With all 140 seats of the General Assembly up for grabs in 2003, our lawmakers won’t have the luxury of putting off our problems another year.

If nothing is done, this year’s big “No” will take its toll on a lot of incumbents.

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