Addressing the specifics of these issues is the tough part and has proven to be the undoing of many lawmakers throughout the history of our commonwealth.
Delegate Jack Rollison tried to take on one of those mammoth tasks and put 17 years of political capital on the line while pushing for a Northern Virginia sales tax referendum to increase the flow of money to much-needed transportation projects in traffic-clogged Northern Virginia. His efforts probably won’t earn him any Christmas cards from fellow Republicans within the Prince William GOP who are poised to anoint a new primary challenger this spring. Though many but not all Democrats were sympathetic to Rollison’s referendum idea, they too will be lining up a candidate next November to take the Woodbridge House seat.
With the sales tax referendum defeated never to rise again it would be a shame if an anti-Rollison backlash grew out of the ashes of this recent political defeat.
Rollison took a lot of heat for his efforts. It took two General Assembly sessions and a contentious veto session last April to get the proposal on the November ballot. Rollison worked both sides of the aisle and continuously fought attempts by Senate Democrats to have the referendum include an extra half cent for the region’s public schools.
Advancing an idea that includes new taxes is dangerous for Republicans but Rollison made the effort in an attempt to address specific problems at a time when other politicians were only providing lip service. He dared to provide a specific solution while other transportation ideas were long in rhetoric but short on substance.
The sales tax push never resulted in the stalemate of any workable alternatives designed to help Northern Virginia’s traffic problems. Rollison proposed the referendum after seeing VDOT spiral into disarray under the stewardship of Govs. George Allen and Jim Gilmore. The referendum was also a reaction of seeing continued raids on the transportation trust fund. Rollison admitted while running for reelection in 2001 that he offered the referendum in part “out of frustration.” But he also worked to insure it didn’t result in a shell game of Richmond siphoning off the region’s other transportation funding streams.
The politics surrounding this referendum prompted many public officials to keep quiet.
Mark Earley, hoping to succeed Gilmore as governor in 2001, twiddled his thumbs for months regarding the sales tax issue until he was forced to reveal his opposition when pressed by former Gov. Douglas Wilder during a debate.
Most of the members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors were mum about the plan stalling for almost two years on whether they supported the concept.
Even Sen. George Allen chose to stay out of the sales tax campaign until the 11th hour when he finally announced his opposition.
Yes, we all want better schools, better roads and lower taxes. But Rollison shouldn’t be held liable for trying to address at least one of these goals with a specific solution because when other suggestions were sought few politicians were talking.