One of the only controversial issues on the Nov. 5, ballot is a referendum on whether to raise the sales in Northern Virginia by one half cent to pay for regional transportation programs.
Last year, the General Assembly agreed to allow voters in Northern Virginia and in the Hampton Roads area to decide this issue. Mayor Kerry J. Donley is one of the leaders of the fight to pass the referendum.
“This is very important to Alexandria and to the entire region because the state is not going to be able to pay for all of our transportation needs over the next few years,” Donley said. “The state is facing additional budget cuts and we cannot afford to delay some of these projects. Increasing the sales tax is our best hope for obtaining the funds that we so desperately need.”
Proponents say that the sales tax increase will result in about $188 million in transportation funding for Alexandria over the next 20 years. “And we can use that funding stream to raise money through bonds for some of the projects much earlier than 20 years,” Donley said.
One half of the money is in designated projects and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, comprised of local officials from throughout the region, will decide where the remaining money will be spent.
Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland is the one member of City Council who opposes the referendum. “I believe that the cost to Alexandrians far outweighs the benefits,” Cleveland said. “We will get one very small piece of road in Eisenhower Valley and what if they decide not to fund our DASH facility? The transportation formulas do not benefit the city and need to be changed and what is to stop the General Assembly from cutting other transportation funding that we might get and just say that we can use the money from our sales tax increase? I believe there are too many uncertainties and we should not approve this referendum.”
THE STATUE that controls how the money from the increase in sales tax will be spent calls for 40 percent of the designated funds to be used for transit projects. “We would like to have done more but 40 percent is a good start,” Donley said. “We will get funds to build a new DASH facility, funds for improving our Metro station at Eisenhower Ave., and funds to plan transit in the Route 1 corridor at Potomac Yard. Alexandria favors a Metro stop and Arlington is leaning toward a bus or light rail system. But we all understand that there needs to be transit improvements in this area.”
Some people are opposed to the referendum because they believe that this means funding for a Duke-Eisenhower connector. “They are not tied to each other,” said George Foote. “You can support the referendum and be opposed to a connector. Improvements in the valley could mean a connector but it could mean something entirely different.”
Very few groups have voted to oppose the referendum. Among them are the Sierra Club, the Coalition for Smart Growth, an anti-tax coalition and the Alexandria Republican City Committee.
“This is a sad moment for partisan politics in Alexandria,” said Councilman David G. Speck, concerning the ARCC vote. “The Republican Party of Wiley Mitchell, George Cook, Bob Calhoun and Connie Ring was a party that took positions motivated by concerns for the next generation. The Republican Party of Bill Cleveland seems to think about nothing beyond the next election.”
Bert Ely spoke in opposition to the referendum at the Sept. 14, City Council meeting. “Alexandrians would be hurt in three ways by a sales tax,” Ely said. “This tax increase will eliminate the sales tax differential between Alexandria and Maryland and narrow the differential between Alexandria and DC by 40 percent.
"Second, the bond rating agencies will treat any debt issued by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority as “overlapping debt." That is, Alexandria’s share of that debt will be treated as part of the total state and local debt burden borne by Alexandria citizens.
"Third, Alexandria voters may be so angered by their increased property tax assessments and the prospect of a sales tax hike that they will vote against two important statewide bond issues.”
ELY WAS referring to the bond referendums to support capital projects at state colleges and universities and another that will pay for capital projects at state parks and recreation facilities.
Donley emphasized that any funding gained from the sales tax increase means less local dollars that will have to be spent on transportation improvements.
“We need a new DASH facility whether this referendum passes or not,” he said. “If we don’t have the money from the sales tax increase, we are going to have to find it out of local dollars. We need money for expansion at T. C. Williams High School. The local dollars that we save by using money from the sales tax increase can be used to support this and other capital projects at our schools and throughout the city.”