- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

RICHMOND House of Delegates Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. has bottled up the legislation authorizing a referendum on a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia until Gov. Mark R. Warner promises he won't expand the proposal statewide.
The referendum hashed out early yesterday by a House-Senate conference committee would ask Northern Virginians this fall to approve an increase in the sales-tax rate from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent to pay for school construction and $2.4 billion in specific transportation projects.
A sizable portion of that new revenue 20 percent, or about $26 million would go to parts of the state with a lower composite index, which is a formula used to divide state funds among local school districts.
Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, has let the administration know he will not let the bill out of committee without the governor's concession.
"I think we need to know what we are going to be voting on in the House," Mr. Wilkins said. "I'd like to be sure my caucus would go along with what they are proposing."
Mr. Wilkins' objections came after Mr. Warner said that he liked the referendums, but could "improve" them, which many Republicans took to mean that he would amend the conference report and make it a statewide education sales-tax referendum.
Mr. Warner is in favor of a statewide sales-tax referendum, while Mr. Wilkins is adamantly opposed.
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls confirmed that Mr. Wilkins had been in touch with the governor about the referendums.
"The governor is thinking about what the speaker communicated," Miss Qualls said.
As of press time, Mr. Warner, a Democrat, was leaning toward giving in to Mr. Wilkins' demands. However, the governor was also hunkered down with senior Democratic legislators and other advisers to get their views.
Several Republicans have relayed to Mr. Warner that he should stand up to Mr. Wilkins, as have several Democrats.
If all sides can work out their differences, there could be a vote today, which is when the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn. Legislators are also to vote on the $50 billion 2003-2004 budget.
Many Democrats said yesterday evening that Mr. Wilkins is being "arrogant" in the way he is trying to guide the debate over the referendums.
"I have never seen this, never," Delegate Robert D. Hull, Falls Church Democrat, said of the pressure Mr. Wilkins is exerting on the governor. "The governor is an equal branch of government. The speaker can't tell him what to do."
But Delegate James K. O'Brien Jr., Fairfax Republican, said he found Mr. Wilkins to be well within his authority.
"I think that's fair," Mr. O'Brien said. "He's got the power to do it."

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