- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

The picture for Virginia taxpayers has brightened considerably this week, thanks to former Govs. George Allen and Doug Wilder and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the Republican Party’s likely gubernatorial nominee next year. On Monday, the threesome endorsed a referendum plan that offers Virginians a real opportunity to avoid the bipartisan tax-increase trap laid for them by Gov. Mark Warner and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester. If Virginians vote no, the General Assembly would be forced to adopt an alternative, “back to basics” budget that does not raise taxes.

When he ran for governor in 2001, Mr. Warner insisted that he would not increase taxes. But the Democratic governor spent most of 2002 lobbying for passage of referenda to increase sales taxes in Northern Virginia. After voters defeated those ballot measures by landslide margins, Mr. Warner used the mantra of tax reform to propose a $1 billion tax increase over two years. Not unexpectedly, Mr. Chichester, a Republican, managed to push through the Senate a plan to increase taxes by $3.8 billion. When the House last month gave its approval to a $522 million package of higher taxes on business, a tax increase seemed inevitable.

But that may no longer be so. For months, Paul Goldman, a veteran state Democratic Party operative with close ties to Mr. Wilder, has been lobbying anyone who will listen against the high-tax plan being pushed by Mr. Warner. On Monday, Mr. Allen condemned the governor’s tax plan, and Mr. Wilder said he would not have endorsed Mr. Warner in 2001 if he had known his fellow Democrat would be pushing tax increases. He also said the state needs to limit spending.

The referendum plan has serious implications for next year’s gubernatorial election. While Mr. Kilgore has endorsed the referendum, the likely Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, has denounced it. House Speaker Bill Howell endorsed it.

With the General Assembly scheduled to conclude on March 13, the next few days are critical. A two-thirds vote of the House and Senate is needed for an emergency referendum that would place the issue on the June 8 ballot. Right now, Messrs. Warner and Chichester have dug in their heels in opposition. Referendum supporters are betting that, faced with the reality of a budget stalemate in the General Assembly, Mr. Chichester and the governor will relent and allow the people of Virginia to decide whether to tax themselves more.

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