Its chances for getting through Richmond may be slim at best, but the two candidates for the 48th District House of Delegates special election have affirmed their promises to introduce legislation allowing Arlington residents to vote on the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar.
In fact, in an Aug. 11 Arlington forum prior to the Aug. 19 special election, both Democrat Richard “Rip” Sullivan Jr. and Republican David Foster said a referendum measure would be the first piece of legislation they would introduce, if elected.
The comments came at the second, and final, debate between Sullivan and Foster, held at George Mason University’s Arlington campus.
The pro-streetcar faction on the County Board contends it does not have the authority to hold an advisory referendum on the streetcar or any other topic, although some other Virginia jurisdictions do have that power. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) has asked state Attorney General Mark Herring (D) for an advisory opinion on the matter.
If there is such a prohibition, it could be lifted by the legislature. While the General Assembly would not necessarily require the County Board to authorize a referendum, it could give Arlington leaders the authority to do so.
Whether such a bill could get out of the General Assembly and be signed by Gov. McAuliffe is an open question. Even if it won passage, the measure likely wouldn’t take effect until July 2015, meaning county officials would have to scramble – if they wanted to – in order to hold a referendum next November.
Alternately, upcoming County Board elections in 2014 and 2015 could serve as proxies on the issue, as anti-streetcar forces currently hold two of five seats on the County Board, with the seats of two pro-streetcar board members (Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada) up for grabs in 2015.
A number of prominent Arlington political leaders have expressed support for the concept of a referendum. Among them: Hope, Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze, Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy and former Treasurer Frank O’Leary. Their support for a referendum, however, does not necessarily translate into opposition to the $350 million Columbia Pike streetcar project.