- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Anti-tax advocates in Virginia vowed yesterday to defeat a proposed referendum on a tax increase to fund transportation projects and warned legislators who back the idea that they will pay a price at the ballot box.
The warnings came at the inaugural meeting of the Virginia Club for Growth, the state chapter of a national organization focused on tax relief and reining in government spending.
Organizers said turnout for the first meeting exceeded expectations, with more than 100 people crowded into two small dining rooms at the Tysons Corner Marriott. Attendees heard local and national anti-tax leaders rail against the transportation referendum, which the legislature is expected to approve this week in Richmond.
"How can [the legislature] ask us for a tax increase on roads and highways when they spend money on everything but roads and highways," said Peter Ferrara, president of the group. "What they are trying to do is turn this state into New York or Massachusetts this is a fiscally conservative state and we want to keep it that way."
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, has amended legislation passed by the legislature earlier this year to include a transportation referendum for Northern Virginia voters. Members of the General Assembly meet tomorrow for a one-day session to vote on amended legislation, as well as attempt any overrides of bills Mr. Warner vetoed.
Delegate Robert Marshall, Manassas Republican, was the only member of the General Assembly to attend the meeting in Fairfax yesterday. He said the referendum is likely to pass on Wednesday, but he predicted voters would reject the proposal in November.
"[Sen.] John Warner and [Rep.] Tom Davis do not have any challengers this fall, and when you have a low-turnout race like this would be the conservatives have the edge," he said.
Mr. Ferrara said the event yesterday raised more than $2,000 for the Virginia Club for Growth. He said he expects the campaign to defeat the referendum to cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told the audience a vote allowing the referendum was the same as voting for a tax increase a violation, he said, of the anti-tax pledge many Republican legislators signed.
Mr. Norquist urged voters to call their representatives to remind them what happens when the promise is broken.
"The last person who broke that pledge was [former President] George Bush and he was invited to do something different for the rest of his life," Mr. Norquist said. "People understand now that you don't break that pledge voting for the referendum is a violation of that pledge."
Mr. Ferrara said his organization is nonpartisan, even if it at times its policies sometimes fall in line more with Republicans.
"I have said before I would support [former Democratic] Gov. [Douglas] Wilder if he wanted to run again, because he had the best rein on spending of any governor since World War II," he said.
"It's not our responsibility to support [politicians] just because they are Republican," said Stephen Moore, president of the national Club for Growth.
"We are going to come after politicians, especially Republicans, who vote for this tax increase," he said. "If you vote for a tax increase, which includes this referendum, you will find yourself with a very well-financed primary opponent."
Not all Republicans oppose the idea of a referendum, even if they are opposed to the one-half percent sales-tax increase that would take effect if the referendum passed.
"Unlike a lot of my friends here today, I have no problem with my neighbors voting on it," said Mike Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. Mr. Thompson said he is opposed, however, to raising taxes for transportation needs.
Mr. Thompson is a candidate for the seat currently held by state Sen. Warren Barry, Fairfax Republican, who is expected to resign at the end of this session to join Mr. Warner's administration. His opponent for the Republican nomination said he plans to make this issue the central theme of his campaign.
"I am going to make this election a referendum on the referendum," said Ken Cuccinelli, a lawyer from Centreville.
"As a member of the Senate, you vote for 177,000 people. But in the referendum, you vote as one. I want to fight hard against it."

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