- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

A Virginia state senator has submitted a bill to eliminate a part of the state tax code that punishes married couples, vis-a-vis unmarried couples.

Sen. Edward L. Schrock, Virginia Beach Republican, wants to raise from $5,000 to $6,000 the deduction married couples take from their income. That would even things out as compared to single filers, who each take $3,000.

It's not the same "marriage penalty" congressional Republicans tried to end this year, but it aims to eliminate the last disparity between married and unmarried couples.

The total doesn't amount to much per couple, but Mr. Schrock said finance officials have told him the change will cost the state between $20 million and $30 million a year. It's a significant amount of money, he said, but it's worth the price.

"It's been that way forever," he said. "I just don't think it's right.

Virginia's state income tax is based on a taxpayer's federal adjusted gross income. Mr. Schrock's bill would allow a married couple to deduct $6,000 from their income. Mr. Schrock's bill would take effect for the 2001 tax year.

It's too early to tell how the bill will fare. Most lawmakers said they haven't begun to pore through the three dozen bills and resolutions already submitted.

But Mr. Schrock thinks it has a chance.

"I can tell you every married legislator will sign it without hesitation," Mr. Schrock said.

President Clinton this year vetoed a tax-cut bill which, among other things, would have ended the federal marriage tax penalty, which opponents say can cost a married couple thousands of dollars a year.

In the federal version, the combined income of a married couple can put them in a tax bracket that costs more in taxes than they would have paid if they were unmarried.

But some married filers find themselves with a "marriage bonus" as well, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

According to the 1997 CBO report, married couples may face a marriage penalty similar to the federal model in Maryland and 11 other states.

Virginia and the District allow married couples to file separately, as if they were single, on a single tax return. That eliminates a potential marriage penalty, the report concluded.

Mr. Schrock's bill is one of about three dozen bills and resolutions already submitted and printed. Two bills would alter the way the elections are conducted by requiring every voter to show identification before voting and identifying candidates by party on the ballot. Another would return to local government a portion of the state's take from the income tax.

Another bill involves one of the least-talked-about reforms that may prove to be the most sweeping: After years of complaining about the way Virginia selects its judges, Republicans, who have the edge in both the House and Senate, can finally do something about it.

When the General Assembly convenes, two legislators plan to submit bills opening up the judicial-selection process.

Judges now are chosen by a form of insider horse-trading between lawmakers from the affected districts.

A classic example of this process occurred last winter, when the assembly had to fill an open slot on the Fredericksburg area's 15th Circuit Court.

Former Hanover County Attorney Peter Trible and General District Judge Horace Revercomb III of King George County were the finalists for the job.

Circuit judges serve eight-year terms, and handle felonies or civil cases involving more than $15,000. They hear appeals from general district and juvenile courts.

Most of the Fredericksburg-area delegation and the 15th Circuit Bar Association backed Judge Revercomb, who served as a judge for more than a decade.

But Sen. Bill Bolling, a Republican who represents Caroline, Richmond and Essex counties, wanted Mr. Trible.

Mr. Bolling initially refused to yield, creating a deadlock. The power-sharing rules then in effect demanded that both parties agree on judicial appointments.

In response, Judge Revercomb's supporters threatened to nominate him from the Senate floor, a move requiring only a simple majority for his election. The showdown was averted with an agreement to elect Judge Revercomb to the circuit judgeship and Mr. Trible to Judge Revercomb's General District Court seat.

Mr. Bolling now wants to change the process.

"Judges in Virginia should be appointed on the basis of merit and qualification, and no other consideration, personal or political, should be a part of that process," he said. "In addition, people should have an opportunity to be involved in the appointment process."

To that end, Mr. Bolling said his bill would create bipartisan panels to recommend nominees to the assembly.

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