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Votes

Smyth, Hyland Differ on 5% Tax Cap

Planning commissioner and political newcomer pursue Board of Supervisors seat.

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With Election Day on Nov. 4 less than a week away, the two candidates vying for the Providence District supervisor seat shift their campaigns into high gear. Democrat Linda Smyth compared herself with the "Energizer bunny," and Republican Jim Hyland said that he has lost 10 pounds while knocking on 5,000 doors.

“Each door is kind of its own story," Hyland said. "That is what I like about it. One guy was madder than hell at Fairfax County because he’d sent a letter three times and never gotten a response from a staff person. ‘Who’s his boss?’ he wanted to know.

“I told him to call Tony Griffin the next day,” Hyland said.

When Hyland knocked on another door, a man named Ed Bierman answered.

“I said I was running for Providence supervisor,” Hyland said. “He said he used to be Providence supervisor.

Bierman told Hyland that the supervisors used to decide among themselves who would be the chairman. Bierman himself served for one year under that arrangement, he told Hyland.

While Hyland has lost weight while campaigning, Smyth is more worried about keeping weight on her small frame.

“I have gone on a doughnut diet,” she said. “You keep knocking on doors and walking. My problem is if I don’t keep eating like a horse, I am going to waste away,” she said.

But more than calories separate the two candidates.

HYLAND, WHO HAS TAKEN the Republican-sponsored pledge to hold the county to a 5-percent annual increase in revenue from residential property taxes, said he wants to put Fairfax County on a leaner diet of dollars. Smyth, who did not take the pledge, said she favors diversifying county revenue.

Smyth’s largest campaign donation in this reporting period is $3,000 from her mother in St. Louis, Mo.

Among Hyland’s list of 164 donations is one for $250 from Henry A. Kissinger, identified as a self-employed “consultant” from New York. The name George Herbert Walker Bush, with a donation of $250, will appear on his next filing, Hyland said.

“My dad [William Hyland, a longtime Vienna resident] used to work for [former presidents] Nixon and Ford. It’s from that era,” Hyland said.

“The vast bulk [of his donations] are basically personal friends. I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten any money from the Fairfax County establishment.”

(Lists of campaign contributions can be viewed at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/eb, the Electoral Board’s link at Fairfax County’s Web site.)

For 32 years, Providence District has elected a Democrat as its supervisor, but Hyland says 12,000 voters who lean Republican have moved in during the last eight years.

Smyth is running for the open seat vacated by Gerry Connolly, now a candidate for chairman of the Board of Supervisors. He succeeded Katherine Hanley (D), the current chairman, as Providence supervisor.

Hyland sees a conflict of interest between Smyth’s service as a planning commissioner and her candidacy for the Board of Supervisors. If he is elected, he said, he’ll ask her to resign from the Planning Commission.

SMYTH IS A substitute teacher from Missouri whose favorite subject is American history and whose mother, Joanne Keller, and Midwestern background still influence her decisions.

Hyland is a lawyer raised in a politically aware family in Fairfax County. His father is a former State Department employee who accompanied Richard Nixon on his historic trip to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.

Hyland met his wife, Lisa, in the reception area of Sen. John Warner’s (R) office, where both of them worked when they were fresh out of college.

Hyland's opinions about roads and traffic were formed as a Washington commuter, he said, giving rise to proposals to position traffic-enforcement teams at strategic points along major commuter routes during rush hour, widen I-66, and extend rail to Dulles Airport.

On traffic, Smyth talked about Rail to Dulles and other incentives to separate commuters from their cars.

Both candidates have taken out loans to finance their campaigns. Hyland reported that he has repaid $5,500 of his $16,500 loan, while Smyth reports she still has a balance of $21,000 on loans from her husband, Nigel, an attorney, and $1,000 from Del. Jim Scott (D-53rd), a former Providence supervisor.

“The Batel Builders have a pending application,” Hyland said. “They made a campaign donation during the primary. She realized it was a hot button, and she gave it back,” Hyland said.

Hyland also criticized Smyth for accepting $199 donations in the past from West Group employees and members of their families. Because they are less than $200, such donations don’t have to be disclosed from the dais before Planning Commission hearings.

Eric Maggio, an accountant for West Group, gave her $199 in August. In January, Smyth voted in favor of a zoning variance to allow his firm to build 1,356 residences in Tysons, of which eight will be affordable dwelling units. Smyth said Maggio’s donation was blind.

“I get checks from people I don’t know,” she said. “He is one of them. It is truly remarkable. I get a check, and sometimes there is a note,” she said. Often, the note will identify a friend of the donor who recommended her as a candidate.

Others come from Democrats who have helped the party’s candidates over the years, she said. “They just send you a check.”

Smyth says no applications from West Group have come before the Planning Commission since November, when they approved the application for the new residences at Tysons.

"That was before I knew my life would change in this way," she said. She announced her candidacy for Connolly's vacant seat in April and defeated Becky Cate and Pat Morrison in a party caucus in June.

Of the $199 contributions from West Group, "They are all reported," she said. "In the grand scheme of things, $199 is not a big deal."

SMYTH is an ardent supporter of Rail to Dulles and believes it can be paid for, she said.

“We’re getting the financing lined up for the phase through Tysons” to Wiehle Avenue, she said. “We are working on the tax district and getting state and federal contributions.

“I think we need to have Rail to Dulles, something seamless, because of the capacity issue. Rail is going to handle that many more people and take more cars off the road,” Smyth said.

On taxes, she pointed to Hyland’s pledge to limit tax increases to 5 percent.

“We are all taxpayers, and we want to keep our taxes as low as possible,” said Smyth. “By the same token, we want to be able to pay for our central services. The tax cap is a formula that sounds good but doesn’t fix the underlying problem,” Smyth said. “We have an antiquated tax system.

“We need to restructure it so we have a wider variety of taxes and are less dependent on the residential property tax.”

“If we really work at it, we can keep people’s residential taxes at 5 percent,” Hyland said. “Fairfax County gets a lot of other revenue from different sources. But because the economy has been down, they haven’t been growing as much. We need to take action to increase revenue from existing sources,” he said, including enhancing the value of commercial real estate.

On transportation, Hyland wants a road bond to take an assessment of bottlenecks and update light synchronization. A tax district, he said, could potentially finance Rail to Dulles. “It’s the federal government that has to put 50 percent of the money down,” Hyland said. “We shouldn’t have to turn to county revenue to pay for traffic improvements.”

More buses, which Smyth favors, won’t fix traffic, Hyland said.

Smyth, a substitute teacher, says education should be a top priority.

She’s been endorsed by both teachers organizations in Fairfax County.

The Sierra Club, the Firefighters and Paramedics union, and the Northern Virginia Realtors Association have also endorsed her.

Hyland has endorsements from Republican office holders U.S. Sen. John Warner (R), U.S. Reps. Tom Davis (R-11th) and Frank Wolf (R-10th), and Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.