- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia Democrats say they plan to exploit what appears to be a flip-flop by some Republicans on a "no-new-taxes" pledge when members of the House of Delegates and the Senate come up for re-election in 2003.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Alan Moore said Republicans who broke their pledge will have to answer not only to fellow Republicans, but to all voters during the campaign season.

"I think that anytime you put your name to a pledge, you have to be cognizant of the consequences if you break it," Mr. Moore said. "When you have Republicans fighting against Republicans, I can grab a Coke, pull up a chair, and watch. Sometimes they do our work for us."

Mr. Moore joined several Democrats who spoke privately about their glee seeing Republicans fight among themselves.

"This a wedge issue that Republicans try to use on the federal, state and local races," Mr. Moore said. "Does this have political legs? Absolutely."

More than a dozen Virginia lawmakers mostly Republicans have come under fire from anti-tax forces for their support of tax referendums after signing the Taxpayer Protection Plan, created by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative Washington think tank. The group's pledge is a simple, one-sentence promise to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

ATR President Grover G. Norquist said 17 of the 31 state lawmakers who had voted for tax referendums this General Assembly session and signed the group's pledge were violating their oath.

Mr. Norquist said yesterday that his group will mount an effort to let voters know that voting for any tax referendum is tantamount to voting for a tax increase if the referendum does not also ask about cutting taxes to offset any increase.

"We will be running ads letting people know who took the pledge and who has kept it," Mr. Norquist said. "We will raise this issue's visibility. This is a tax increase. You cannot consistently tell your constituents that you voted against tax increases when you voted for these tax referendums."

While saying that the state Republican Party is still "the party of low taxes," Virginia Republican Party Chairman Gary Thompson acknowledged that infighting within the organization has intensified over the issue of referendums.

Many Republicans have pushed the referendum issue this year. The House and Senate have each passed competing versions, with the House calling for both a sales- and income-tax referendum for Northern Virginia to pay for education construction and transportation projects.

The Senate, though, wants a statewide sales-tax referendum to pay for education needs as well as a ballot measure to raise the 4.5 cents sales tax by a half cent to pay for transportation projects in Northern Virginia. The Republican-led legislature also has passed a bill giving Hampton Roads the chance to hold a referendum to raise its area sales tax by a penny to pay for road projects.

On the local level, Republican delegates and senators who have voted for referendums this sessions regardless of whether or not they have signed the no-new-taxes pledge are getting angry calls and e-mails from constituents and party loyalists in their districts, Republican sources said.

"There's a long-standing proverb that capability implies intent," Arlington County Republican Committee Chairman Michael Lane said. "And when you create the capability to raise taxes it means that you intend to raise taxes."

Mr. Lane said those lawmakers who signed the pledge but voted for referendums could face a tough re-election in 2003.

Republicans who signed the pledge during the last election cycle and since its inception in 1986 said they felt betrayed.

During Virginia's gubernatorial election last year, Mr. Norquist reportedly told Republican candidate Mark L. Earley that supporting a tax referendum did not amount to support for increased taxes.

Republican lawmakers took Mr. Norquist's statements about the referendums last fall to mean that he had given the green light to voting for the referendums.

But that is not the case, he said.

His position was misstated, he said. The pledge makes it clear that lawmakers are supporting higher taxes by backing any efforts such as referendums that could lead to higher taxes.

"He's got to be consistent or he's got no credibility," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican.

Mr. Callahan is listed on the ATR Web site as having signed the pledge during the last election cycle. But he said he last signed it in 1999.

Regardless, he said, voting for the referendums is not equal to voting for a tax increase. In fact, he said, the eventual full repeal of the car tax is a huge annual $800 million tax burden lifted off the shoulders of Virginia's taxpayers. That, in and of itself, far outstrips any tax increase that could be generated by an increase in the sales or income tax.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said Mr. Norquist needs "to get his story straight."

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