- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

RICHMOND The state Senate passed a measure allowing Winchester to increase its sales tax by a penny, the first move in the ongoing debate over referendums.
Sponsored by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, the bill gives state approval to a referendum city voters overwhelmingly approved last year that calls for the dedication of the 1-cent increase to education needs and raise $7 million a year.
The Senate passed the bill 34-5 last week, with one senator not voting.
"This was a grass-roots effort, an effort from the heart," Mr. Potts said on the Senate floor.
Still, he said the bill will likely face opposition in the House of Delegates, which is typically more resistant to localized tax-referendum measures. Mr. Potts said he may offer a floor amendment that expands his bill so that every locality in the state can hold referendums to raise the sales tax by a penny for education.
He had offered an expanded bill as a substitute in the Senate, but pulled it back after learning it would probably be sent to the Senate Finance Committee, where it likely would have been killed.
"Why shouldn't other communities have the same right?" Mr. Potts asked.
Sen. William T. Bolling, Hanover Republican, was one of the five to vote against the bill. He said that like the other referendum bills being considered, Mr. Potts' bill widens the gap between the richer and poorer areas of the state.
"I think all of the referendums create a concern that you create disparity," Mr. Bolling said.
Later in the day, a special House Appropriations subcommittee heard from almost two dozen supporters and one opponent of sales-tax referendum bills.
Representatives from different factions within the Northern Virginia business community which had been undecided about an education referendum, but clearly supported a regional transportation ballot measure indicated last week they are now behind each measure.
Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, said while there seemed to be some consensus on whether the education referendum should be statewide or local, questions remained about how money raised through a sales-tax increase would be distributed.
Under a bill he proposed, an estimated $810 million over the next two years would be generated by a half-cent increase of the 4.5 percent sales tax. All of the money would go to school construction and technology needs.
When it comes to how much money localities will receive, Mr. Dillard said, "There are going to be some winners and losers."

Not all state employees would go without raises if the proposed state budget passed in its current form, a legislator has discovered.
Delegate Phillip Hamilton, Newport News Republican, said last week that he was surprised to learn that the budget proposed by former Gov. James S. Gilmore III included raises for several legislative employees. He has found no budget amendments, either from Gov. Mark R. Warner or his fellow lawmakers, to strike the raises.
Raises were proposed for the clerks of the Senate and the House of Delegates, the auditor of public accounts, the executive director of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program, the chief of the Capitol Police, and the directors of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and the Division of Legislative Services. Some of those employees already draw six-figure salaries.
The budget, with a shortfall approaching $5 billion over the next 21/2 years, includes no money for pay increases for other state workers.
"At a time when state employees, teachers and college faculty are being told they will not receive any pay raises from the state, it seems inappropriate for already-highly-paid legislative employees to receive a pay increase," Mr. Hamilton said. "I just don't know how or why these employees were singled out for a pay raise."

A Senate committee endorsed legislation last week to allow pharmacists and doctors to dispense "morning-after" pills, which a woman can take within 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
With little debate, the Education and Health Committee voted 11-3 to send Sen. Warren E. Barry's bill to the Senate floor. Mr. Barry, Fairfax Republican, is the committee chairman.
Another version of the bill is pending in the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. The measure was approved by the House and Senate last year, but it died in a conference committee late in the session.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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