- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

RICHMOND Republican leaders say virtually every bill seeking to increase taxes will be dead on arrival in the current General Assembly session.

"You don't raise taxes when there is a recession or when you are coming out of a recession," House Speaker William J. Howell said about the prospects for tax increases passing through his chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch said while there is movement to raise cigarette taxes, the bigger picture needs to addressed.

"We look at what impact it would have on our economy, and it is heavily centered on tobacco," said Mr. Stosch, Henrico Republican. "To throw a huge tax on smoker" is not right.

He added, "On the Senate side, I detect no interest in wanting to increase taxes anyway."

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, has said Virginians are going to have to accept new taxes if they want to maintain their current level of service. But he acknowledged yesterday that political will in Richmond is not to raise taxes this session.

"Don't ask me when," taxes are going to be raised, he said. "It's not a high priority and there just won't be the votes."

Voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads rejected transportation referendums in November that would have raised their respective sales taxes to fund regional transportation initiatives. In countless interviews with voters, many said the main reason they were opposed to the referendum was because they did not want to be taxed more. Instead they wanted more of their fair share sent back from Richmond rather than having it dispersed throughout the state.

In that vein, Northern Virginia Republicans are sponsoring legislation that would amend how much money localities are required to spend on their Standards of Qualities programs in schools.

Under the current funding formula, Fairfax County is responsible for more than 75 percent of its SOQ costs, including teacher salaries and building construction. On the other hand, less prosperous counties such as Lee County in southwest Virginia, are responsible for less than 20 percent of their SOQ costs, said Delegate Gary A. Reese, Fairfax Republican.

The proposal, known as the Fairness in Education Act, is being sponsored by Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, and calls for capping the amount jurisdictions can be required to pay at 65 percent.

On Wednesday night, Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, announced he would not accept a budget that decreases spending on education, something Republican leaders said they were never considering in the first place.

One funding area that might be changed during the session is a repeal of the estate tax. While no formal legislation has been filed, Mr. Howell said legislators should remember the wealthy do not benefit from this tax break. Rather, he said, it is low-income families, such as small farmers who would benefit from the repeal.

"The Bill Gateses of the world will move from Virginia to Florida or some state that does not have the estate tax, so it's not going to affect them. It's going to affect the farmer," he said.

The Family Foundation, a conservative policy think tank, agrees. They are lobbying lawmakers to consider legislation for the sake of future generations.

"If Virginia continues to enforce a death tax while other states do not, Virginia may lose small farms, jobs, private investment, and other forms of revenue," said Victoria Cobb, director of legislative affairs.

A half dozen Fairfax fathers testified before a joint House and Senate committee yesterday against the reappointment of Fairfax County Circuit Judge M. Langhorne Keith. Many of the men claim Judge Keith is biased against fathers in custodial hearings and did not give them a fair hearing, automatically assuming their children were better off with their mothers.

"We have got to fix this system. It's a tragedy and a nightmare," said Ronald Grignol, a member of Fathers for Virginia, which organized the rally.

Judge Keith was unable to attend the hearing because he had court proceedings all day in Fairfax.

Judge Keith's renomination, along with several other judicial reappointments, is expected to be voted on by the committee and forwarded to the full House on Monday.

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