- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

RICHMOND — The Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee yesterday passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to resist the Senate’s two-year, $60 billion budget plan that includes nearly $2 billion in new revenue from raising cigarette, sales and income taxes.

The committee, which sets the rules and laws for the state party, passed a resolution blasting the Republican-controlled Senate and Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, for their tax increases and budget plans. The resolution also calls for a voter referendum on whether to raise taxes.

“The Republican Party of Virginia is the party that believes that government must be smaller and taxes must be kept low,” the resolution stated. “The governor and the Senate have been urged to allow the people of Virginia the opportunity to have a voice in this debate with a vote up or down on these proposed tax increases.”

But senators yesterday said they had heard from their constituents and that an overwhelming majority support the Senate plan.

“We have a bipartisan, unified voice for our grandchildren’s future,” said Sen. H. Russell Potts, Winchester Republican. “We’re doing the right thing.”

Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, echoed these comments: “I’m more convinced than ever that the Senate is on the right track. … My constituents are willing to accept [tax increases].”

Yesterday, senators also denounced their House counterparts for staying away from the Capitol during the historic budget impasse. As 27 members of the 40-member Senate met yesterday for a one-hour session, only 11 delegates from the 100-member House came in for a three-minute meeting, then recessed again until Tuesday. The House had been on a break since last Sunday.

“The people are expecting us to complete our work,” Mr. Houck said after Senate leaders announced the body could do nothing “meaningful” until the House returns on Tuesday.

The nine House and Senate budget negotiators did not meet yesterday and don’t plan to meet until Monday afternoon. Lawmakers yesterday said budget negotiators are unlikely to reach a compromise anytime soon between the Senate budget and the House’s $58 billion budget that excludes general tax increases but gives significantly less funding to public education.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester said he felt disheartened by a series of mailers House delegates sent to Henrico County residents that criticize the Senate’s plan to raise taxes to fund state services. He called the mailers “insulting” and characterized them as “unreliable gossip.”

Mr. Chichester said the mailers, sent out by several Republican delegates, mislead voters and politicize what should be a practical discussion on how to fund the needs of the commonwealth. He said the mailers ask residents to check one of two boxes, which read: “Do you think government should raise taxes?” or “Do you think government should cut spending?”

“It attempts to distort what we are trying to do, and it’s turned the people’s business into a political campaign,” said Mr. Chichester, Stafford County Republican.

“When you are on the wrong side of the issue, to politicize it is the only way to extricate yourself. It’s a sad state of affairs, and it’s a Virginia and a Republican Party I’m not used to seeing,” he said.

The divide between the House and Senate is still as wide as it’s ever been. Yesterday marked a record 74 days of legislative work, continuing after Mr. Warner called a special session when the legislature failed to meet its No. 1 priority of crafting a budget for 2005 and 2006.

Fueling the rancor between the two chambers is money. Senators have refused a $115 daily stipend during the special session, but the House delegates will receive the payment when the members are in session. About 35 of the delegates, however, reportedly have said they will not take their stipend.

Mr. Houck said when delegates return Tuesday, none of them should accept the payment unless they are actually doing work.

The House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet Tuesday to get a sense of what constituents are saying about the budget impasse.

It is not clear if the full House will do any legislative work, though the delegates have work to do. The House must act on a Senate plan to end the tax on food and to remove the sales tax exemption for utilities, allowing those companies to pass the increased cost on to their customers.

The measure would raise about $128 million over two years, and most of that revenue would be devoted to salary increases for state troopers and local deputy sheriffs.

The House Finance Committee must hear the plan, but no meeting has been scheduled yet.

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