- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

RICHMOND The chairmen of the Senate and House transportation committees will introduce legislation today that would allow Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to hold referendums to raise the state sales tax by a penny for funding transportation projects.
If passed, the bills would place a measure on the ballot allowing voters in each region to raise the sales tax from 4.5 cents to 5.5 cents, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Martin E. Williams, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. House Transportation Chairman Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III is sponsoring the bill in the House.
"It's to go for specific projects," Mr. Williams said. "We want to raise money regionally so we can keep the money regionally."
In Northern Virginia, the one-cent increase would raise an estimated additional $200 million annually; in Hampton Roads, an estimated extra $120 million.
The proposal by Mr. Rollison and Mr. Williams is one of many referendum measures and it's drawing tepid support.
"It's a significant tax increase," said Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat.
Mr. Petersen said the regional cooperation is a good sign some sort of transportation referendum may make it out of the legislature this year.
Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller, Fairfax Democrat, said that if the Rollison-Williams bill becomes law, Virginia residents may go to Maryland to buy things because Maryland's 5 percent sales tax would be lower.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, Fairfax Republican, said he does not think the bill has much of a chance.
"It's not going to fly," Mr. Callahan said, citing the penny increase for transportation alone.
Last session, the House passed a transportation-only referendum, but the Senate insisted on a transportation-education referendum, which could not win a majority in the House.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, said he is "open to the idea" of allowing referendums to raise the sales tax for education, transportation needs or both, but wants the legislators to work out their ideas before committing to a specific proposal, Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.
There is more resistance to the idea of raising taxes during a recession, even if the public did so themselves through a referendum.
"I'm still not sure if we want to raise taxes at this point," said House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican.

The 15 members of the House's Black Caucus remained silent during the pledge to the state flag, which has been criticized for its origin among the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The only black Republican delegate, Winsome E. Sears of Norfolk reversed her previous position and said she was not going to recite the pledge. But Mrs. Sears did not make it to the floor in time to for the prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance or the "Salute to the Flag of Virginia."
"Remember now, I am my brother's keeper," Mrs. Sears said. Mrs. Sears represents a mostly black district, and she said by not saying the pledge, she is representing the majority views of her constituents.
Those opposed to the salute say it harks back to the days of segregation in the state. The pledge was first adopted by the General Assembly in 1954 and is the same tribute given at the beginning of meetings for the Virginia chapter of the United Daughters of Confederacy.
Black Caucus Chairman Delegate Mary T. Christian, Hampton Democrat, said she hoped to have a resolution by the end of the week. Mrs. Christian and another member of the caucus met with Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, the Virginia Beach Republican who proposed saying both the American and Virginia flag pledges, for about 10 minutes yesterday but nothing was resolved.
"We're trying to move forward," Mr. McDonnell said. "There are widely different views on this."
In other news:
* Attorney General Jerry Kilgore laid out part of his legislative agenda yesterday, addressing domestic violence, terrorism, school safety and the use of DNA evidence. He will hold a news conference today on his legislative package dealing with ethics in government.
* A public hearing held by the House and Senate money committees produced more than 125 groups or persons asking the state to add or maintain funding for their programs. But with the state facing a $1.3 billion shortfall in this budget year and $2 billion in 2003 and 2004, budget cuts are inevitable.
* A bill that would ban the burning of any object on public or private property with the intent to intimidate was passed yesterday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. The bill, proposed by Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, Norfolk Democrat, would rewrite the state's cross-burning statute that was deemed unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court last year.

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