- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Virginia House members — apparently resigned to adjourning without an overall budget — introduced nine bills yesterday, each of which will fund unmet expenses in this years spending plan such as teacher pay raises or state-supported museums.
If the House passes the bills when the assembly reconvenes this week, it could force the Senate to accept the House position, or vote against each bill individually and face the consequences from special-interest groups whose needs are rejected. The piecemeal approach also takes the car-tax issue off the table, since current law keeps the rebate on schedule with the state paying 70 percent of the bill this year.
The House and Senate adjourned Feb. 24 after failing to pass a package of amendments to the two-year budget passed last year, leaving public employee pay raises and state-supported cultural institutions unfunded. The two houses disagreed over the size of the car-tax rebate, with the House siding with Gov. James S. Gilmore III in insisting it stay on schedule at 70 percent while the Senate proposed a lesser tax cut.
Now, after almost two months of stalemate and little communication between the two houses, each has produced a new budget — though neither is willing to accept the others.
"It is obvious that the House and Senates proposals are still very far apart," said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican. "Since at least one Senate Finance Committee member indicated the House proposal was never taken seriously by the Senate, it is unlikely that a single budget solution will be reached."
A raft of parliamentary maneuvers likely awaits the piecemeal House bills, senators and delegates agreed. Senators are unlikely to accept at least part of the Houses proposals for funding, since it uses savings from the Virginia Retirement System — savings senators used to support but say they no longer can support given the current status of the stock market.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the budget Friday and included a significant change to the concept of the car-tax rebate.
Under current law, the tax cut applies the same rebate rate — now 70 percent — to all cars between $1,000 and $20,000 in value. Cars valued at less than $1,000 arent taxed, and owners of cars valued at more than $20,000 pay the full tax on the amount over $20,000. The Senate budget would eliminate the tax entirely on cars valued at $4,800 or less, but give a 50 percent rebate on cars between that value and the $20,000 cap.
"It gets away from the issue of 47.5 percent or 50 percent or 55 or even 70, and it recognizes that our original objective was to provide tax relief for as many working families as we could," said Sen. Walter Stosch, Henrico Republican and one of the key negotiators on the budget, who said about 60 percent of cars in the state fall under the $4,800 level and thus would be free from the car tax.
But Northern Virginians say that treats them unfairly since car values are generally higher in the region. The issue has caused a crack in the Senate Finance Committees formerly unanimous bloc.
Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican, voted against the bill; Sen. Janet Howell, Fairfax Democrat, abstained.
The dispute could put a burden on localities, some of which already have mailed their car-tax bills. Some would have to send out new bills and others could have to cut their spending because they wouldnt be getting projected reimbursements from the state and would have to wait six months before billing residents again.
Another wild card is the lawsuit filed by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, and Mr. Barry. They have sued in a state court in Richmond, charging that the governor flouted notification requirements of the car-tax law and thus the car-tax rebate should be frozen at last years 47.5 percent rate.
Attorney General Mark L. Earley has to respond to the lawsuit in a week, and Mr. Saslaw said he will ask for an expedited hearing on the matter.
The Republican Party of Virginia weighed in on the issue over the weekend when the state Central Committee passed a resolution urging the assembly to pass a budget that delivers a 70 percent rebate this year and asking it to keep on schedule to deliver the full 100 percent rebate next year.


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