- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Virginia Republican leaders say they will focus on education, the budget and other matters that unite them and abandon divisive issues, such as raising sales taxes for transportation projects, when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

"There will always be intraparty squabbling, but we can work on healing. That will be one of my premier efforts when we reconvene," House Speaker-designate William J. Howell said yesterday.

Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican, did not offer specifics, but said he expects attention to be focused on issues involving education and the budget.

State Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch said his party's agenda has not changed and that his priority will be shoring up the state's $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

"The passage of the bond referendums for state schools [on Tuesday] was a big help," said Mr. Stosch, Glen Allen Republican.

He said he expects more cooperation between the two legislative chambers. Mr. Stosch and Mr. Howell have pledged to meet at least once a week, which Mr. Stosch said was not always possible with former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins because of conflicting schedules.

Republicans had been split over a referendum that would have increased sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund transportation projects in those regions. Voters on Tuesday soundly rejected the referendum, leaving Republican leaders to regroup and seek common ground.

"We'll work together," said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, House majority whip and a leading advocate of the sales-tax referendum.

"With a stronger conservative majority in the Senate, more of our measures are likely to be viewed favorably over there, specifically [the] partial-birth-abortion ban and parental-consent laws," said Mrs. Devolites, Fairfax Republican.

State Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican and a leading referendum opponent, agreed.

"We can do it, we will override [the veto on the partial-birth-abortion ban]," Mr. Cuccinelli said.

During this year's General Assembly cycle, lawmakers rejected legislation that would have required minors to present notarized parental-consent forms before they could have abortions. State law stipulates only that minors must notify a responsible adult.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a partial-birth-abortion ban this year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat. While the House voted 71-28 to override the veto (it needed 67 votes), the Senate fell three short votes, 24-14.

Since the General Assembly adjourned, Mr. Cuccinelli and James K. O'Brien Jr., Clifton Republican, have won special elections to fill the terms of senators who had voted against the override. Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. O'Brien are pro-life.

The budget is a prime legislative concern. Last month Mr. Warner announced $858 million in budget cuts to help shore up the deficit. He is expected to cut an additional $700 million next month.

Transportation remains a key issue.

Mr. Cuccinelli, chairman of the Coalition Against the Tax Referendum, said he has been in touch with pro-referendum Republicans and that they will work together to find solutions. Some suggestions include returning a half-percent from the existing sales tax to the regions for transportation issues, and reworking the books so that more money is sent back to Northern Virginia from Richmond.

Mr. Stosch suggested that lawmakers look into public-private partnerships to fund transportation projects.

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