- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

RICHMOND Northern Virginia legislators will ask for a 1 percent sales-tax increase to pay for public education when the General Assembly reconvenes next month.
"We have had five statewide polls in the last four years which [showed] the public is willing, even eager, to pass a fair tax increase if it goes toward education," House Education Committee Chairman James Dillard, Fairfax Republican, said yesterday.
Delegate L. Karen Darner, Arlington Democrat, told Mr. Dillard she would support the proposed legislation as long as food products were excluded from the tax increase.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, Democrat, also said he would support the measure but would not push it as a part of his legislative agenda.
Still, it's unlikely the bill will pass because Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads voters overwhelmingly rejected regional sales-tax increases last month that would have paid for transportation projects.
The legislature failed to pass a similar measure last year that incorporated funding for education into the transportation referendums.
Speaker-designate William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, also said Mr. Dillard's proposal had little chance of passing.
"I don't think it's viable at this time," he said. "I think it's bad sense to raise taxes during the recession. I don't think we need to raise taxes to fund the core responsibilities" of state government.
Sen. James "Jay" O'Brien, Fairfax Republican, said Mr. Dillard's proposal was flawed because it would distribute the money unfairly.
Mr. O'Brien, a former member of the House of Delegates who won a special election in November, said voters told him during the campaign they wanted more of their share to return to Northern Virginia. Mr. O'Brien said he understood that the Dillard proposal was similar to the failed education referendum from the last session because a large share of the money raised in Northern Virginia would go elsewhere.
"If I heard anything during the campaign it was that [voters] wanted their fair share back," he said. "We are tired of being the bank for the rest of the commonwealth and in the proposal last session, $4 million of the money raised in Fairfax was going to Virginia Beach."
Mr. Dillard acknowledged he had a tough road ahead of him, but said he had no choice because something needed to be done for education, particularly teacher salaries.
"We are at that point where we have simply underfunded everything," he said.
Mr. Warner also said he wants to streamline the state's information technology services by creating the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, known as VITA. The move would eliminate three existing agencies and two government oversight boards.
Mr. Warner said he expected a "fairly small" number of layoffs from the consolidation of the departments of Information Technology and Technology Planning, the Virginia Information Providers Network Authority, the Virginia Geographic Information Network board and the Virginia Information Providers Network board.
He estimated initial savings in fiscal 2004 to be about $23 million. Mr. Warner does not need legislative approval to make the consolidations.

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