Fairfax businesses agree to tax themselves

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath

Businesses in western Fairfax County decided that the economic potential of three Metrorail stations was worth paying for.

After a years-long battle, the Western Alliance for Rail to Dulles persuaded a majority of commercial landowners in western Fairfax to sign a petition for extra taxes to pay for Metro stations near the Reston Town Center, Herndon-Monroe and Route 28. The group was able to convince businesses owning a 61 percent of the land that it was in their best interest to tax themselves.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to create the special tax district last week, which will raise $320 million for the rail stations. Businesses were concerned that, without the money, the extension of Metrorail to Washington Dulles International Airport would pass the region by.

Reaching an agreement wasn’t easy. But the decision by these business owners highlights more than just the importance of expanding Metrorail. It shows Northern Virginia’s real economic need for transportation solutions.

Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell has acknowledged that solving transportation could be his toughest job. Last week, he appointed his transportation secretary, Sean Connaughton, a man familiar with Northern Virginia’s transportation woes.

While chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Connaughton oversaw $300 million in road construction when the county decided to stop waiting for state money. However, Connaughton sought a referendum in 2002 to increase the county sales tax by half a cent to pay for road construction. Unlike the businesses in western Fairfax, voters rejected the idea.

Eventually, Prince William reached its debt capacity and couldn’t borrow any more.

Virginia has been in a similar situation the past few years. It has been unable to issue any of the $3 billion in bonds that were approved in 2007 (although some capacity will be relieved next year as the state will be able to pay $570 million on debt issued in 2000.)

McDonnell has made it clear that new or increased taxes are not part of his transportation plan. But has the situation become so dire that businesses and residents are willing to tax themselves?

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