- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

RICHMOND — The Virginia House of Delegates yesterday passed its $58 billion budget, adding amendments that would put sales and income tax increases to a statewide vote, close two corporate tax loopholes and end the posthumous tax on millionaires.

The delegates voted 60-35 to pass the budget, which faces a vote today in the Senate. Expected to reject the budget, the Senate would return the impasse to the House and Senate negotiators who failed to reach a deal in 11 days of talks that ended last Tuesday.

Yesterday marked the fourth day of a special session that has brought lawmakers no closer to a budget compromise than they were when the 63-day regular session adjourned Tuesday. It is the first time the General Assembly has had to meet in special session to draft a new two-year plan for funding state government operations.

Debate focused on the amendment to ask voters to ratify additional taxes in a referendum that would appear on the statewide ballot with the presidential and congressional candidates.

The amendment was adopted on a 57-38 vote after Democrats and maverick Republican Delegate Robert G. “Bob” Marshall denounced a referendum as the General Assembly’s ducking its constitutional responsibility.

Delegate Ward Armstrong asked what would have happened at critical moments in U.S. history had critical decisions been subjected to popular opinion. Suppose George Washington had asked the signers of the Declaration of Independence to withhold their signatures in Philadelphia in 1776 and subjected the document to a referendum, he said.

“Or pretend, for a moment, that you are at the hastily convened joint session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, when President Roosevelt stands up and says, ‘December 7th, the day that will live in infamy, because that’s the day I decided we will put out to referendum whether the United States will enter World War II or not,’” said Mr. Armstrong, Henry Democrat.

Mr. Marshall argued that the state Constitution bans the legislature from delegating away its budgeting authority, and he objected to including the referendum amendment because it was not germane to the rest of the budget bill.

“I liken this referendum … to a Hail Mary pass in a football game. We don’t know what to do. We’re going to throw this thing out here and, hopefully, something will happen to it,” said Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican.

“I think we have to decide this matter here. If you’re going to be for a tax, vote for a tax; if you’re against a tax, vote against a tax, but let’s get the matter done, but don’t do this punt or Hail Mary pass,” he said.

House Speaker William J. Howell overruled Mr. Marshall, who appealed Mr. Howell’s decision. The House sided with the speaker on a 93-1 vote.

Mr. Marshall was similarly rebuffed when he objected to the estate tax repeal amendment as not germane.

Republicans argued that the referendum is necessary because neither Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, nor some Republican legislators re-elected last year leveled with voters about plans to increase taxes.

“We do not believe we have the trust of the people,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. “We do not believe philosophically that we should raise taxes in Virginia by $2.4 billion.”

Mr. Griffith said a Nov. 2 referendum on a 1-cent sales tax increase and higher income taxes is the only way to avoid continuing gridlock that could stifle state government after the current budget expires June 30.

“I do not want to risk a governmental shutdown July 1,” Mr. Griffith said. “We know that our duty is to stay here and vote ‘no’ for taxes. We have serious costs in this commonwealth facing us, and there is but one way out.”

Del. John S. “Jack” Reid accused Mr. Warner of hiding his tax-increase plans until after the election last fall, and he said some Senate Republicans similarly misled voters last year.

“This is a statement against those who run for office with a hidden agenda and don’t have the courage to lay it out for the voters,” said Mr. Reid, Richmond Republican. “I don’t like referendums, but I’m going to vote for this one because, if the people in my district want to raise taxes, they ought to have the opportunity to say that’s what they want to do.”

Negotiators will be reappointed as early as today and asked to resolve the deep fiscal and ideological rift between the rival budgets and tax plans.

Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican, said he is likely to reappoint the same five-person House bargaining team, despite a letter from House Democratic Leader Franklin “Frank” P. Hall of Richmond to add a senior Democrat, Delegate J. Paul Councill of Franklin, to the panel.

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