- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

It's been a bad time for taxpayers since the General Assembly convened in Richmond almost two months ago. The year began with Democratic Gov. Mark Warner and the Republican leadership in the legislature agreeing to postpone the final installment of the car-tax rollback. Now, the legislature, which is scheduled to end its session on Saturday, is about to decide whether to administer taxpayers yet another drubbing: Both the state Senate and House of Delegates have approved proposals to hold tax referendums to pay for roads and education.
The House, avoiding any kind of statewide tax-increase vote, has passed legislation calling for referendums on a one-quarter to one-half percent increase in Northern Virginians' income taxes to fund school construction and a half-percent sales tax increase for transportation. The Senate has approved a statewide sales-tax referendum to increase the 4.5-percent sales tax by a half percent to pay for education and to permit Northern Virginia voters to decide on yet another half-percent increase for transportation. Mr. Warner, who came out of the closet late last month and said he would campaign for tax-increase referendums for education and transportation, can be expected to sign virtually any measure that reaches his desk.
However, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist has thrown a monkey wrench into lawmakers' efforts to rationalize their support for these schemes. According to Mr. Norquist, state lawmakers who voted for the referendums and signed ATR's pledge not to vote for tax increases have violated their oath. Some of these members, among them such prominent Republicans as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent Callahan of Fairfax, bitterly complain that supporting the right to vote on a ballot measure is not the same as favoring a tax increase and that ATR is "changing the rules" by counting support for the referendums as support for increased taxes. Mr. Norquist counters that ATR has always made it clear to lawmakers that paving the way for tax increases, whether politicians vote for them directly or rig the referendum process to favor them, is fundamentally the same thing.
This newspaper has long taken the position that localities should be able to vote on ballot measures of local concern without having to run to the state legislature for permission. But Mr. Norquist is absolutely right to object to the current process in Richmond, where Democrats and Republicans (working in tandem with the Northern Virginia Roundtable and other corporate elitists who see tax increases as a way to get working stiffs to fork over more money) are simply trying to grease the skids for tax increases without having to actually vote for them. If Mr. Callahan and his colleagues are genuinely concerned about about "letting the voters decide," then they should pass referendum measures that would allow Virginians to vote on alternatives to tax increases, such as changing spending priorities and cutting taxes. Since that's not going to happen with this governor and this legislature, the best possible outcome would be for the General Assembly to pass no tax referendum plan at all.


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