- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Virginia House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins says he is still not opposed to the idea of Northern Virginians raising their own taxes for local road projects, but the Senate spoiled the idea by asking for too much muddying the legislative waters.
"They were just playing games with us," Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, said yesterday, two days after the regular session of the General Assembly ended with the House choosing not to vote on a transportation-referendum package for Northern Virginia if it meant adding a statewide education referendum to the mix.
"To put an issue out on the last day is a bit much. They could have passed the other bills if they had wanted to," he said, speaking from his district office in the small town north of Lynchburg.
A referendum is still possible for the region in November, Mr. Wilkins said, if Gov. Mark R. Warner adds the legislation to existing bills when the legislature reconvenes for a daylong session on April 17.
The speaker has been criticized for the way the session adjourned on Saturday. Members were not given the opportunity to vote on what had become a hybrid education/transportation tax package that had passed the Senate earlier in the day. Mr. Wilkins, who had had enough of the issue simply gaveled the session into adjournment.
The House had passed a transportation-referendum measure for both Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. The Northern Virginia referendum was killed in the Senate, however, because it did not include a statewide education referendum.
The Hampton Roads referendum passed unscathed.
"We [in the House] swallowed a toad and allowed for the Northern Virginia and Tidewater referendums, but we had to work at it," said the lanky, 65-year-old second-term speaker. He added, "We passed good bills, but the Senate chose to sit on both … until the last day. To expect us to pass it because they then needed a vote, it doesn't work that way."
Delegate David A. Albo, Springfield Republican, agreed.
"What happened on Saturday was completely expected," he said. "We sent over a transportation referendum [only] but what was sent back had … all these bells and whistles tied to it. We rejected it [because of this], but the Hampton Roads bill did not do this, and now [that bill is] sitting on the governor's desk."
Some have complained the session was ended unfairly, and ultimately did not allow the members to do their jobs vote.
"In a word, it ended badly," said Delegate James H. Dillard, Fairfax Republican. "Obviously it was a parliamentary maneuver to avoid voting on one of the most important issues facing Northern Virginia and the rest of the state. It was very hurtful."
The near-party-line vote to adjourn came while Sen. Thomas J. Norment, Williamsburg Republican, waited to inform the House chamber that the Senate had just passed a bill that combined transportation and education in the local sales-tax referendum.
At that point House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, called for a motion to "sine die" a move to officially end the 60-day session the vote to adjourn was taken immediately and the session ended nearly six hours before it was legally required to do so.
House leadership supporters said the Senate was just getting a taste of its own medicine, and that the House had every right to act this way.
"The Senate adjourned this way last year with legislation hanging over from us, so why are they whining when we do the same thing this year?" asked Delegate Robert Marshall, Manassas Republican.
"I was delighted with it," said Delegate Richard Black, Sterling Republican. "It was the first time I saw the House of Delegates reassert its role vis-a-vis the Senate."
Mr. Wilkins said Mr. Warner had tried to get the issue of a referendum in Northern Virginia addressed, but that the two leaders in Richmond were just on different pages.
"About a week ago, the governor and I had a good meeting and a good discussion," Mr. Wilkins said yesterday. "We agreed to disagree on this issue. He felt we had to go statewide [with an education referendum as well]. … We tried to work it out, and he tried. He made a good faith effort."
Some Republicans were relieved that no referendum bill apart from the limited Hampton Roads measure was able to go through, because they are opposed to any legislation that would ultimately raise taxes. They said the party leaders finally began listening to voters.
"We were in a tax-and-spend-athon," said Mr. Black. "But like drunks sobering up in the morning, they realized this is not what our party is about. Our party is about keeping taxes low for the common people."
Mr. Marshall said no matter what the reason, a tax for Northern Virginia was a bad idea, and the party would have suffered had it passed.
"When you go against your base [of voter support] you are going to get in trouble," he said. "You might have the best reasons in the world, but when you go against the base of the Republican Party, they don't forget about it."
Mr. Wilkins said he was not exactly thrilled with the idea of any tax increase either, but that the voters in Northern Virginia had convinced him this was their top priority. He believed then, and still believes now, that they should be given the chance to bring it to a vote provided it is not tied to other issues.


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