- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

RICHMOND Mark R. Warner, as a gubernatorial candidate, told voters he would not support raising taxes statewide and would push only for regional tax referendums. Now that he is in office, Mr. Warner badly wants a statewide tax for education a change in position that Republicans say is a broken promise to voters.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Warner, a Democrat, threw the prestige of his office behind a Senate-favored plan that would allow voters statewide to increase the 4.5 cent sales tax by a half-cent to pay for education costs like increases in teacher salaries and programs.
Mr. Warner cites a $3.8 billion budget shortfall expected over the next 28 months and "unmet statewide education needs" as reasons to hold a statewide tax referendum.
However, both the House of Delegates and the Senate are proposing to increase public education spending by about $200 million in the 2003-04 budget.
"Why are people unwilling to have the people of Virginia weigh in on how to solve their problems?" Mr. Warner said during a recent Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce meeting. "We need you to make this happen. You do your part, I'll do my part."
Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, said the governor's quest for a statewide referendum did not square with what Mr. Warner the candidate said last fall when he battled Republican Mark L. Earley for the keys to the executive mansion.
The governor is going beyond giving voters a choice in the matter; now he is pushing for a tax increase, Mr. Matricardi said.
"Now we all know that he was intentionally misleading the people of Virginia. There is no way that his current stance [of] pushing a statewide tax hike for education can be justified by his campaign last year on the Northern Virginia transportation referendum," he said.
During the campaign, Mr. Warner made this purely localized referendum a key component of his statewide transportation plan. The referendum would ask the region's voters to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to 5 cents to pay for $2.3 billion in Northern Virginia transportation projects.
In one television advertisement that ran last fall, Mr. Warner flatly denied he would support tax increases.
"I will not raise taxes … I've simply said, let's trust the people. If the people of Northern Virginia want the right to vote locally on how to fund transportation, they should have the right," Mr. Warner says in an advertisement titled "Straight Talk B." He then stressed, "Their vote would only affect them, not anyone else in Virginia. Despite my opponent's attempts to mislead you, that's the truth."
A House-Senate conference committee is trying to hammer out the differences between two competing referendum plans.
Both the Republican-controlled House and Senate versions include the Northern Virginia transportation referendum. However, the Senate like Mr. Warner wants a statewide sales tax referendum for education, whereas the House version calls for an income-tax referendum to pay for education, to take effect only in Northern Virginia.
The Northern Virginia transportation referendum has a good chance of getting out of the conference committee. If it does not, Mr. Warner likely will attach an amendment to a related Hampton Roads transportation referendum bill that has passed both chambers.
One of the bills' conferees, Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., Williamsburg Republican, said Mr. Warner is right in pushing the statewide approach for a sales-tax referendum.
"Education and transportation both are pretty much universal problems across the commonwealth," Mr. Norment said.
Another conferee, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republi can, said he would prefer even to see a statewide referendum to pay for transportation projects.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, is adamantly opposed to any statewide tax referendum, especially for education.
Mr. Wilkins, who has been meeting almost daily with Mr. Warner about the issue, believes a statewide tax referendum for education would create disparities among school systems because the formulas used to disperse the money would favor richer counties like Fairfax.
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls says the governor believes lending his support for a statewide tax referendum for education is the "responsible thing to do as a leader."
She said that Mr. Warner inherited a budget mess that had not been fully disclosed.
Also, she noted, Republicans such as Delegate John A. Rollison III of Prince William and Delegate James H. Dillard II of Fairfax County have been pressing for tax referendums.
"Any further discussion of who wants to raise your taxes is, I think, a moot one," Miss Qualls said.
Republicans like Mr. Matricardi and House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, counter that Republican lawmakers pushing for referendums were up front about it, while Mr. Warner was not.
"I'm not sure the Democrats have much more credibility," Mr. Griffith said. "… [Mr. Warner] made a campaign promise he can't keep."

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