Voters' Guide

Voters' Guide

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Claims Of "Actual Innocence"

QUESTION 1: Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended to permit the Supreme Court to consider, as part of its original jurisdiction, claims of actual innocence presented by the General Assembly?

ANALYSIS: This amendment would allow convicted felons to present new evidence proving their "actual innocence" after the conviction. If DNA or other scientific evidence surfaces after a conviction, the convict can file a petition with the Virginia Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court finds that the evidence is valid, it can order the lower court to hold a hearing within 90 days during which the new evidence will be presented.

Currently, convicted felons have 21 days after conviction to present new evidence that might exonerate them. The 21-day rule is one of the toughest in the country. If the amendment is passed, petitioners to the Supreme Court will have up to 15 years to present DNA evidence that was not available during the initial trial.

Real Estate Tax Exemptions for Nonprofits

QUESTION 2: Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow localities by ordinance, rather than the General Assembly by law, to exempt property from taxation that is used for charitable and certain other purposes, subject to the restrictions and conditions provided by general law?

ANALYSIS: If voters approve this amendment, localities will be able to exempt nonprofit groups in their jurisdiction from real estate taxes. Under current law, nonprofit groups have to get a bill through the General Assembly to benefit from the tax exemption. This means that they must first get a recommendation from their local Board of Supervisors, then get their local delegate to sponsor legislation, and finally get the legislation approved. In the past, the General Assembly has tended to approve all tax exemption applications in a single omnibus bill but some delegates say it is a strain on the Assembly to have to get involved in these local issues.

Under the new rules, the General Assembly would set guidelines regulating what kind of organizations localities could exempt but the ultimate decision would rest with the localities.

Once the decision has been made to grant a tax exemption, that decision is final. Groups do not have to get their tax exempt status renewed every year.

Fairfax County sends between eight and 12 tax exemption applications to Richmond every year, which represents a loss of between $20,000 and $50,000 a year for the county.

Most of the applicants are neighborhood swimming pools and tennis clubs which may not otherwise be able to afford the relatively high real estate taxes in the area.

Proposed State Bond Issues

State Higher Education Bonds

QUESTION 1: Shall Chapters 827 and 859, Acts of the General Assembly of 2002, authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the maximum amount of $900,488,645 pursuant to Article X, Section 9 (b) of the Constitution of Virginia for capital projects for educational facilities, take effect?

ANALYSIS: This referendum question asks voters to approve the sale of bonds for state colleges and universities. The money would be used to build new facilities or to renovate existing buildings. It will not go for day-to-day operations of the schools. In Northern Virginia, George Mason University is set to receive $80 million from this referendum with which it plans to build a 200,000-square-foot building in Arlington near its existing Virginia Square campus and a 130,000-square-foot building on its Fairfax campus. The buildings would contain classrooms, offices and research facilities. The Northern Virginia Community College is in line for $35 million from the sales of these bonds. That money would be used to build a medical campus in Springfield to train health care workers.

Officials at GMU and NVCC say they need the money from the bond sales to make room for the explosion of students both schools are faced with. The schools grow by a combined 3,500 to 5,000 students a year. There are currently 27,000 students at GMU and 65,000 students at NVCC. Other schools benefiting from the proposed bond sales include: Christopher Newport University, The College of William and Mary, James Madison University, Longwood College, Mary Washington College, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, the University of Virginia, UVA's College at Wise, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, Richard Bland College, the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Cooperative Extension/Virginia Agriculture Experiment Station, Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Science Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Frontier Culture Museum.

State Park Bonds

QUESTION 2: Shall Chapters 854 and 884, Acts of the General Assembly of 2002, authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the maximum amount of $119,040,000 pursuant to Article X, Section 9(b) of the Constitution of Virginia for capital projects for parks and recreational facilities, take effect?

ANALYSIS: If voters approve this bond referendum on Nov. 5, the state's park system will get $119 million to buy new parkland, build facilities on existing parkland and to control shoreline erosion. The money might also pay for a new park, "Widewater," tentatively planned along the Potomac River in Stafford County. State parks received $12 million from the state last year and another $7 million in fees. The number of visitors to the state's park system has increased from 3.8 million in 1991 to 7.1 million last year, with about 40 percent of the visitors coming from outside Virginia, pumping an estimated $144 million in the state's economy last year.

In Fairfax County, Mason Neck State Park would receive $730,000 from the bond sales. That money would be used to build a new office building for the park's administrative staff as well as staff housing. Right now staff and offices are housed in trailers.

Other state parks in Northern Virginia include George Washington's Grist Mill in Alexandria, the Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville, Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane and Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge.

Northern Virginia Sales and Use Tax

Sales Tax Referendum

QUESTION: Shall an additional sales and use tax of one-half of one percent be imposed in Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Fairfax, the City of Falls Church, the City of Manassas, and the City of Manassas Park, with the revenues to be used solely for regional transportation projects and programs as specified in Chapter 853 of the Acts of Assembly of 2002?

ANALYSIS: This question asks residents of Northern Virginia to raise the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent and dedicate the revenues to regional transportation projects. The tax increase is expected to generate around $5 billion over the next 20 years.

About half of that $5 billion is already earmarked towards specific projects. The remainder of the proceeds from the tax will be allocated to projects as they come up.

The money will be managed by a new agency, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which is composed of local elected officials, General Assembly members and gubernatorial appointees.

About 40 percent of the earmarked projects are public transit projects or HOV facilities projects.

A similar measure is on the ballot in Hampton Roads.

Advocates of the sales tax referendum say that it offers Northern Virginians the best chance to take control of their transportation problem. Because all the money generated stays in Northern Virginia, local officials will be able to address the region's traffic problems to a greater extent than they have in the past. But advocates add that this referendum will not solve all of the region's transportation woes.

Opponents of the referendum say that the projects will increase suburban sprawl and benefit developers and road builders more than Northern Virginia citizens. They say that changing the state's transportation funding policies would be a better way to address the region's gridlock than another tax. Opposition to the referendum comes from two very different groups: environmentalists who object to a big road building program as promoting sprawl and smog; and anti-tax advocates who object to this and most other increases in taxes.

Proposed Projects

Projects Bond Amount (in millions)

Dulles Corridor Transit $350

I-66 Transit and Rail Extension $300

I-95/I-395 Improvements and Transit Improvements $250

Route 1 Transit Improvements (Arlington and Alexandria) $75

Route 1 Improvements (Fairfax and Prince William) $150

Route 28 Improvements (Loudoun and Fairfax) $50

Route 28 Improvements (Prince William) $50

I-495 Improvements and Transit Improvements $200

Fairfax County Parkway Improvements $125

Tri-County/Loudoun County Parkway $100

VRE Railcars $100

Eisenhower Valley Highway and Transit Improvements $25

Route 234 Bypass/Route 659 Relocated $50

Metrorail Infrastructure Replacements $250

Gallows Road/Route 29 Improvements $25

Secondary System Improvements $150

Urban System Improvements $100

Route 7 Improvements (Fairfax/Falls Church) $80

Route 7 Improvements (Loudoun) $100

Regional Transit Capital $75

Alexandria Transit Capital and Facilities $25

Route 50/Columbia Pike Improvements $25

Columbia Pike/Route 7 Transit Improvements $75

Rail Safety Improvements $20

Total Bonds $2,750

Fairfax County Bond Issues

Parks and Park Facilities Bonds

<bt>Shall the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds of Fairfax County, Virginia, in addition to the parks and park facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $20,000,000 for the purpose of providing funds, with any other available funds, to finance, including reimbursement to the County for temporary financing for, the cost of providing additional parks and park facilities, including the acquisition, construction, development and equipment of additional parks and park facilities and the development and improvement of existing parks and park facilities by the Fairfax County Park Authority?

ANALYSIS: This bond referendum, if approved would allow the Fairfax County Park Authority to float bonds to spend $15 million on parkland acquisition and $5 million on park facilities. According to the Park Authority, the rapid pace of development in the county makes it crucial that open space be preserved now before it is gobbled up by development. Part of the facilities money would be used to pay for the Wakefield Girls Softball Complex. According to supervisors, passing the county bond referendums would not result in a direct tax increase.

Public Safety Facilities Bonds

Shall the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds of Fairfax County, Virginia, in addition to the public safety facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $60,000,000 for the purpose of providing funds, with any other available funds, to finance the cost of providing additional public safety facilities, including the construction of a public safety communications center and an emergency operations center, renovation of court facilities and construction, reconstruction, enlargement and equipment of fire and rescue stations, including fire and rescue stations owned by volunteer organizations?

ANALYSIS: The money from this bond referendum would be divided into three parts. About $29 million would be used to finance a new public safety operations center, which handles 911 calls and serves as a headquarters during emergencies. Right now, the operations center is located in an old elementary school in Annandale. Calls to 911 are answered in the old cafeteria and the emergency operations center, where local officials would meet in the event of an emergency, is housed in an old classroom. Police officials say the current space is too small to accommodate the 34 agencies that would need to meet there. The center was partially activated during the recent sniper investigation. Several sites in the Springfield District have already been proposed as possible sites for the new center if the referendum passes.

About $25 million from these bond sales would be spent to renovate the Jennings Judicial Center. The renovations would bring the 20 year-old building up to current building code standards and would improve security around the courthouse. Voters already agreed in 1998 to sell over $90 million in bonds to provide improvements to the courthouse and allow all the courts to be housed in the same building. The Juvenile and District Relations Court is currently housed in the old courthouse which dates from 1799. The projects financed by the 1998 bond sales are scheduled to be completed in 2007.

The remaining $6 million would be used to renovate fire stations in the county. About 13 stations built over 20 years ago would see money for improvements if this bond passes. The bond would also provide money to build a facility for the Hazardous Materials Response Unit.