- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner indicated yesterday that he would be willing to approve a bill allowing for a statewide referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for education needs his strongest statement yet on the matter.
Mr. Warner said he would prefer to approve a statewide referendum that would be targeted for school construction and technology needs, as opposed to a regional ballot measure.
"I may be weighing in on it," Mr. Warner said on WTOP Radio.
The bill that Mr. Warner favors would raise the state sales tax from 4.5 cents to 5 cents. Sponsored by Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, it passed in the House Education Committee on Monday.
Under Mr. Dillard's bill, the half-cent increase would raise about $377 million next year and $440 million a year after that.
There is opposition to almost any form of a referendum bill, regardless if it raises money for transportation or education needs statewide or just on a local basis. But Mr. Warner seemed to believe a statewide referendum would be harder to get through the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
"The statewide [vote] still would be a legislative challenge to get through the legislature," Mr. Warner said, although Republican leaders have stressed a statewide education bill has more chance of passing in both the House and Senate.
A local referendum bill for transportation will be in dead on arrival in the House, leaders in that chamber have said. There are 11 bills to raise the sales tax floating around in the General Assembly, nine of those would leave it to voters to raise taxes.
Administration and legislative sources said Mr. Warner is getting pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike to take a stand on the referendum issue.
"He's getting pressure to shape the debate on this," one source said.
Mr. Warner, who campaigned that he would be open to signing referendum bills to raise the sales tax to pay for education and transportation, is scheduled to meet with some of the patrons of the bills this week.

Virginians are closer to having a chance to choose candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general through a bill passed by the Senate that requires political parties to use the primary process as a means of nomination.
"Let 'em line up and play," Sen. Russell H. Potts Jr., Winchester Republican and sponsor of the legislation, said after it passed 26 to 12.
If the bill becomes law, the state Republican and Democratic parties would no longer be allowed to choose their nominees for statewide offices during conventions held for that purpose.
Instead, the parties would have to hold statewide primaries, which is estimated to cost local election boards about $2.3 million each time there is a race for the three offices.
Mr. Potts argued that Virginia should join the ranks of six other states Alabama, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas and South Carolina that make primaries the preferred method for nominating its gubernatorial candidates.
All six states also have party identification for voters; Virginia does not.
As part of the measure, voters would be allowed to vote in only one primary for each race, ensuring that Republicans could not throw off a Democratic primary or vice versa.
"God forbid we would let the people speak. God forbid that we trust the people," Mr. Potts said. "I don't have to get nominated in some back room. I'm for the people. I speak for the people."
Several senators said the issue was not about giving voters a choice, but about the freedom of political parties to choose their own methods of determining candidates.
Sen. William C. Mims, Loudoun Republican, and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, said if the bill becomes law it could face serious constitutional challenges because political parties would be limited in the form of the right to assembly and right to free speech.
"We cannot play around on constitutional issues," Mr. Stolle said, when it comes to the nomination process.
Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, said the prospects for the bill in the House of Delegates are not promising. She also is the chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, which is where Mr. Potts' bill is headed.
"[The bill] redefines the role of political parties in our system," Mrs. Devolites said, because it gives the state the right to tell the parties how to run their nomination process.
Gary Thompson, chairman of the state Republican Party, and Alan Moore, state Democratic Party executive director, agreed with opponents of the bill.
"We believe the parties have an inherent right to control the nomination process," Mr. Thompson said.


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