- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Virginia General Assembly remained gridlocked yesterday in its special session on a new state budget. On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Warner ordered the legislature into special session, the latest round in a protracted political skirmish involving the governor, the Republican Senate (which has been even more enthusiastic about increasing taxes than Mr. Warner) and the House of Delegates, dominated by conservative Republicans.

The House voted to put income and sales tax increases to the voters on Nov. 2 — a move we encouraged and strongly endorse. The ballot measures would allow the voters to decide on whether to boost the state sales tax from 4.5 to 5.5 percent and whether to add two new higher-income tax brackets for Virginians making more than $100,000. The governor and his leading ally in the push for higher taxes, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, are bitterly opposed to any referendum proposal. The position is not surprising, particularly in the wake of the debacle of 2002, when the governor’s proposals to increase taxes to pay for transportation projects were defeated overwhelmingly by the voters.

In recent days, Mr. Warner, who has wanted to raise taxes by roughly $1 billion over two years, has criticized as excessive Mr. Chichester’s proposal, passed by the Senate, to enact a tax increase nearly four times as large. On Wednesday, the Senate trimmed its increase from approximately $3.8 billion to $2.2 billion. The question is whether this represents genuine progress or simply a continuing effort by Mr. Chichester and his Senate colleagues to play bad cop to Mr. Warner’s good cop. By doing so, the senators (some of whom may be retiring soon) would try to increase pressure on the House of Delegates to acquiesce to Mr. Warner’s less costly but deeply flawed tax-increase plan.

Mr. Warner and his Senate allies should end the political game-playing and let the voters decide on taxes.

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