- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

RICHMOND A key House of Delegates committee yesterday defied the Republican leadership and shot down a proposal to allow Northern Virginia voters to fund school construction through an increase in the income tax.
But the bill's chief supporter House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican is pressing for a revote today in the House Appropriations Committee, where the measure failed 10-13.
"That bill is still alive not kicking, but still alive," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican.
Some Republicans working with Mr. Wilkins said they were dismayed that party members voted against the House leader.
"This wasn't part of the plan," a senior Republican source said, vowing that "the bill will get out of committee."
Two Democrats were missing from the 25-member committee yesterday, and Republican and Democratic observers say they expect their votes will help pass the measure.
The House Finance Committee approved the bill earlier in the day and then sent it over to the House Appropriations Committee.
It was actually a substitute to a bill offered by Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Manassas Democrat, that would have given voters statewide the chance to increase the sales tax by a half-percent to pay for education needs and Northern Virginia voters the chance to raise the sales tax by a half-percent for transportation projects.
The new version removed the statewide referendum and inserted language that called for a ballot measure to raise the income tax by as much as a one-quarter to one-half percent of a person's taxable income to pay for school construction. That would be on top of a referendum for a half-percent increase in the state's 4.5 cents sales tax to pay for $2.3 billion in transportation projects.
The local income tax would only be increased in those nine Northern Virginia localities that voted for it, while the transportation referendum could be approved by a simple majority of everyone in the region.
Since 1988, the region has had the power to raise a local income tax, but only for transportation needs that could only be levied for five years. The new proposal would get rid of the five-year "sunset" provision and would allow the tax levied to be used for costs associated with school construction.
The local income tax which could raise $105 million annually for Fairfax County alone could only be voted on if the transportation referendum passes in November. The income-tax vote would then have to be held sometime in 2003.
In a statement, Gov. Mark R. Warner said he was glad dialogue is taking place regarding the referendums, but still wants a statewide referendum to pay for education needs.
"What has emerged is only a partial solution," the statement said. "I was elected to represent all Virginians. I am concerned about an approach that gives tools to one region and leaves the rest of Virginia's children, teachers, and families behind."
Most of those who voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee agreed with the Democratic governor, saying the disparity between the "haves and have-nots" of the state would grow wider under Mr. Wilkins' plan.
"It probably will pass in those localities, and what I see is the wealthiest county in Virginia will continue to have more and more, better and better," said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican. "We talk a lot about disparity, and I am not so sure that this piece of legislation … isn't going to make a bad situation even worse."
Fairfax has a median income of more than $90,000, and the Northern Virginia region gives back to the state about 55 percent to 70 percent of the taxes it collects because it of its wealth.
Mr. Wilkins, who has repeatedly said he is against statewide sales-tax increases, also complained about the issue of disparity in killing proposals that would have given voters a chance to raise taxes statewide.
Mr. Colgan said adding the income-tax provision is just another way for Republicans to kill any additional funding for education needs.
"People are going to shoot it down," Mr. Colgan said. "It's a lesson in futility."
Some Republicans agreed, saying the chances of voters giving themselves a tax increase are slim.
"We're unaware of any successful income-tax referendum," said Delegate John A. Rollison III, Prince William Republican. "It puts the burden on local governments and citizens in order to pass the referendum."
House Minority Leader Delegate Franklin P. Hall, Richmond Democrat, said keeping the latest education-transportation referendum proposal alive means statewide referendums for both issues are still on the table.
"The bill is unacceptable to just about everybody, but it is the last, best hope" for a statewide referendum on transportation and education, Mr. Hall said.


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