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'Paying Less and Getting More'

Because Fairfax and the neighboring counties are donor counties, analysts say, Northern Virginia could easily afford to become its own state.

Northern Virginia accounts for about a quarter of the Commonwealth's population and about 34 percent of the income tax revenue.

In addition, 3.5 cents of the 4.5-cent sales tax goes to Richmond while 1 cent remains in Northern Virginia.

At the same time, Northern Virginia receives much less from the state than it sends. In Fiscal Year 2000, Fairfax County sent more than $2 billion to Richmond and received only $417 million in return, roughly 19 percent of what it sent.

In a state of Northern Virginia, taxpayers would be "paying less and getting more," says Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy and regional development at George Mason University. Local planners "would have enough money to finish projects that have been deferred" such as the Springfield Interchange.

According to Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Edward Long, reforming the tax structure would be a priority for the new state of Northern Virginia.

"The first thing you'd have to do is look at the tax structure, reform the property tax and create more diversification of the income stream," he said. He added that with the income tax staying in Northern Virginia, local jurisdictions would have more money to address the need for transportation and education infrastructure.

Supervisor Gerry Connolly (D-Providence) agreed that the first action a government of Northern Virginia would be to restructure the funding for local services to create better revenue distribution and ease the real estate taxes.

"It would not be a Dillon Rule state, so local governments would be more flexible," he said.

THE DILLON RULE, which mandates that all authority not explicitly granted to jurisdictions by the General Assembly remains with state government, is a major sticking point in the often-strained relationship between Richmond and Northern Virginia.

Any attempt at secession would be built around freeing Northern Virginia from the Dillon Rule and granting locally elected officials more authority. Local officials would gain the power to shape the jurisdiction's taxation and to keep the tax receipts in that jurisdiction. Currently, local governments are only allowed to set and keep taxes on real estate and a fraction of sales taxes. All income tax goes to Richmond where it is redistributed around the Commonwealth.

The General Assembly has repeatedly denied Northern Virginia the right to hold referenda on increased local taxation because of ideological opposition, said Fuller.

"The guys in charge [of the General Assembly] don't believe in taxes," he said, noting that they recently turned down an appeal by Northern Virginia to hold a referendum on increasing sales tax by 1/2 cent to benefit local schools

"We might have been taxing more to meet our needs and let the rest of the state benefit slightly from that at our expense."

The General Assembly's is a "short-sighted and stupid attitude. Their mantra is to reduce taxes. Eventually those guys will get thrown out of office."

According to Connolly, "Our taxpayers are getting increasingly fed up" with Richmond. A Northern Virginia state legislature would be more responsive to the needs of Northern Virginians, he said.

SECESSION HAS ALREADY become a question for one Fairfax County resident. Cley Parkhurst, a business executive from McLean, recently asked Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley to consider a separate state as a solution to the deadlock with Richmond.

"There's a basic right that all U.S. citizens have to control their own destiny," Parkhurst said. He added that while he does not want to harm the rest of the Commonwealth, he would like to see more Northern Virginia taxpayer money stay in the area.

State Sen. Leslie Byrne (D-34) has been fighting the Dillon Rule in the State Senate for 20 years. "A lot of people don't understand that what happens in Richmond probably affects their day-to-day lives more than what happens on Capitol Hill."

"The development community has been adamantly opposed to stopping the Dillon Rule because it's easier to influence zoning from Richmond. Developers are big contributors to campaigns," she said.

The Dillon Rule has repercussions on other issues besides taxation. For instance, the General Assembly has refused to allow local jurisdictions to decide ban guns in some places like recreation and community centers despite the fact that most Northern Virginians appear to support the measure. "All the polls I have seen show that an overwhelming number of Northern Virginians don't want firearms in public buildings," said Byrne.

NOT EVERYBODY is frustrated by the General Assembly, however. Arthur Purves of the Fairfax County Taxpayers' Alliance said the Assembly serves as a check on reckless spending and taxation by local officials.

"Fairfax County has no discipline in spending," he said. "The Fairfax County taxpayer's best friends are the downstate rural legislators" who vote to retain the power to tax Virginians. For that reason, secession is a "dreadful idea" said Purves.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Katherine Hanley (D-At Large) warned that any discussion about the economic benefits of secession would require study and analysis. She refused to speculate on whether Northern Virginia would profit from declaring itself independent.