- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

RICHMOND Sales-tax referendums are on shaky ground in the General Assembly again this year, partly because of the same sticking points that sunk the measure last year.
Last session, the House of Delegates passed a transportation-only referendum, but the Senate insisted on a transportation-and-education referendum, which couldn't win a majority in the House.
Aggressive lobbying efforts by supporters of the referendums has produced a glut of measures in both chambers this year, with nearly a dozen bills introduced in both chambers.
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw and other Northern Virginia lawmakers are insisting that education be included as part of any ballot measure brought before voters this fall.
"There is a possibility that none of these bills may make it," said Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. "If somebody says your life depends on it, I'm not sure I'd bet on anything getting signed."
Mr. Saslaw led the charge in the Senate last year to amend a Northern Virginia transportation-only referendum to add another half-percent sales-tax increase to pay for education needs.
Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is sponsoring a similar version of the bill that was passed last year.
The transportation-only referendum bill, which would only apply to localities in Northern Virginia and would raise the sales tax by half a percent, is probably the only bill that will make it out of the House this year, but the vote will be close.
The House Finance Committee will take up several education-referendum bills today. The Senate takes up its referendum bills next week.
"It's tight . I am doing vote counts," Mr. Rollison said. "I've got the votes to get it out of Finance if Democrats vote with me."
Democrats and Republicans alike said they want Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, to weigh in more forcefully on the referendum issue.
He has given tepid support for a bill sponsored by Delegate James H. Dillard II, chairman of the House Education Committee, that calls for a statewide referendum to raise the sales tax by half a percent to 5 percent to pay for school construction and technology needs.
Mr. Warner has said he would be open to signing a transportation referendum bill.
The bill being pushed by Mr. Dillard, Fairfax Republican, has strong opposition in the House Finance Committee, especially by those from more rural districts, who believe the way the money would be distributed would favor larger, more affluent school districts like those in Northern Virginia.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, reiterated his opposition to the statewide referendum idea yesterday, saying an increase in the sales tax would increase disparity across the state.
Because there are "demonstrable" transportation needs in Northern Virginia, he said, he is grudgingly going along with Mr. Rollison's bill.
Mr. Dillard said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the needs of schools across the state.
A sales-tax increase to benefit education, he said, would aid all schools because, according to a recent legislative report, there is a $6.2 billion to $8.2 billion shortfall in school construction and addition of technology to schools.
"It was so clear that everybody has this kind of need," Mr. Dillard said.
"For the poorer counties that have these old schools, they are not wired for computers and technology. So they have an opportunity to get rid of the sewing machines and start getting in the 21st century."

A House of Delegates committee yesterday killed a bill that would have granted women easier access to emergency contraception, commonly known as the "morning-after pill."
The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted 13-8 to kill the bill. A Senate committee last week passed the bill, sponsored by Delegate Viola O. Baskerville, Richmond Democrat, and Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican. But the measure is sure to die when it comes up for another vote in the same House committee.
If the bill were to become law, it would allow pharmacies to dispense the emergency contraception without a prescription from a doctor, though the drug a high-dosage birth-control pill costing about $40 a dose would not be sold over the counter.

The House voted to pass two bills that would raise fees Virginians have to pay to operate a vehicle in the state.
A proposal by Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican, raising the state inspection fee from $10 to $15 and the emissions-inspection charge from $20 to $28, passed 61-37, with two delegates not voting, citing conflict of interest.
Except for $1.50 from the yearly vehicle-inspection fee, all the money goes to the service stations performing the 20-minute examinations.
Also passing on a 70-30 vote was a bill sponsored by Delegate Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr., Spotsylvania Republican, that would double a surcharge on vehicle-registration fees, adding $2. All of the proceeds an estimated $10 million a year would go to assist emergency-services departments around the state.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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