Sales Tax Referendum Attracts Attention

Sales Tax Referendum Attracts Attention

Gil Heiman of Sterling hopes for 50 percent voter turnout, though he hears that a third of registered voters will be at the polls Nov. 5 or sending in their absentee ballots.

“We hope there’s going to a good turnout now that the fear of the sniper is passing,” said Heiman, chairman of the Sterling District Democrats of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, referring to the arrest of two men in the series of shootings in metropolitan Washington, D.C. “People are finally starting to turn their attention to the elections.”

In Loudoun County, voters will have a chance to vote on several regional issues, including three referenda to increase the sales tax and to allow the state to issue construction bonds. They will vote on the 10th Congressional District seat, deciding between Republican incumbent Frank Wolf and his Democratic challenger John Stevens of Sterling.

VOTERS in Northern Virginia will vote on a proposed half-cent sales-tax referendum that is expected to raise $5 billion in 20 years for improving Northern Virginia’s existing roadways, transportation networks and transit systems. The spending of the funds will be governed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which was created to serve as an oversight committee of the tax.

Northern Virginians will vote on two additional bond referenda for capital projects, deciding whether to allow the state to issue up to $900 million in bonds for educational facilities and up to $119 million in bonds for statewide parks and recreational facilities.

“I think with all the things going on, people are not in tune with this election. That may change next week,” said Betsy Mayr, secretary of the Board of Elections, adding that the expected voter turnout for this year’s election is 35 to 40 percent.

The turnout in the 1998 election was 49 percent, compared to 73 percent in 2000 during the presidential election. “I think it’s going to be a little lower this year,” Mayr said. “As our voter registration rolls get larger, that doesn’t necessarily compute a larger number of people voting.”

The rolls show 120,000 Loudoun County residents are registered to vote this year, compared to 104,394 registered in 2000 and 82,993 in 1998.

“For the most part, the thing that will be bringing people to the polls is the proposed sales tax,” said Del. Richard “Dick” Black (R-32).

BLACK, who does not support the sales tax, mentioned Gov. Mark Warner's (D) transfer of $332 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the general fund, a move that cut into the monies available for transportation.

“To me, it’s amazing the governor is pushing to raise sales taxes the same year he raided the transportation fund for other purposes," Black said. “I want to bar future raids on the Transportation Trust Fund. That will put more money into transportation than the sales tax could do, and it won’t require a sales tax increase,” he said.

Heiman said he supports the sales tax. “It’s necessary, and the work is not going to happen any other way,” he said.

The Democratic Committee debated the sales-tax referendum, then held a vote in mid-September with 80 to 85 percent of members supporting the tax. “The money is not going to come from Richmond. We feel this is an important step for self-determination in the region,” Heiman said.

The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce also supports the sales tax. "Overall, people are tired of traffic congestion. We see the referendum as a way to help relieve some of the traffic problems," said Randy Collins, chamber president. "It really is an issue of quality of life and people needing to spend less time on the roads and more time at home."

Members of Loudoun Taxpayers for Accountable Government agreed to not support the sales tax. “We’re completely against that because recently, Mr. Warner moved money from transportation to other agencies, and with the sales tax, we think this will also happen,” said Jim Vogt, president of the taxpayers group. “Northern Virginia pays a lot of taxes already. … Higher taxes hurt people in the wrong way."

Likewise, the Loudoun County Republican Committee voted in September to oppose the sales tax. "There were multiple reasons. One, it's a regressive tax that will hurt our senior citizens living on a fixed income as well as lower income families," said Suzanne Volpe, chairperson of the Loudoun County Republican Committee. "Number two, Northern Virginia contributes a significant amount of tax revenue to Richmond and we only get approximately 40 percent back. Number three would be the whole makeup of the Transportation Authority and the allocation of money for various projects."