- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

RICHMOND — More than 100 Virginians yesterday rallied outside the state Capitol to urge Gov. Mark Warner to “trust the people” and call for a voter referendum on tax increases, as budget negotiators tried to work toward a compromise on the state’s budget.

At a rally organized by the Republican Party of Virginia, Republican lawmakers and antitax leaders, supporters of a referendum challenged Mr. Warner to put parts of his $1 billion tax-increase proposal and parts of a $3.8 billion Senate tax-increase plan to the voters on a June 8 ballot.

“We’re here to create a solution to the problem Mark Warner has created,” party Chairwoman Kate Obenshain Griffin told supporters. “Our voices for no tax increases can either be heard now or on June 8.”

The likelihood of voters seeing a referendum in June is slim. Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has refused to support a referendum and has said he would veto any legislation calling for a referendum.

Those who support a referendum have said it is a last resort and they would rather have pro-tax senators and the governor back off their tax-increase proposals. If that doesn’t happen, they want to put all tax-increase plans on a June 8 ballot.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls criticized the rally organizers for focusing on something that’s “not a viable option,” instead of real solutions.

“The more times they rally for a referendum, the more they are putting things like the state’s triple-A bond rating at risk,” Miss Qualls said. “This is not government by press conference or by rally.”

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican Party’s presumptive 2005 gubernatorial nominee, said the proposed tax increases would cost each Virginia household $1,000.

“They should hear you and they should know you are watching their every move,” Mr. Kilgore told the crowd. “The people are to be trusted and not ignored.”

A group of anti-referendum protesters also showed up at the rally and held signs that read “Virginia is not California,” “Do your job,” and “Pass the budget, not the buck.”

Referendum supporters envision a ballot that would ask voters separate questions on whether they will support an increase of the gasoline, sales and income taxes, and a plan that would eliminate tax exemptions for Virginia businesses.

Since localities need to know how much money they’ll be getting from the state well before June 8, supporters think the legislature should come up with a basic “necessity” budget that meets the state’s needs without any tax increases.

They said that budget should be in place when the General Assembly adjourns Saturday. They said the legislature also should draft by June a “nicety” budget that is contingent on the passage of tax increases on the ballot.

A referendum would need a simple majority to pass.

In November 2002, voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads overwhelmingly rejected transportation referendums that would have raised their sales taxes for transportation projects.

Nine budget conferees have until Saturday to come up with a balanced budget. They must come up with a compromise between the House’s $58 billion budget that meets the state’s basic needs with no general tax increase and the Senate’s $61.5 billion budget that gives more funding to all state services by raising taxes.

If the legislature adjourns without a budget, the governor can call lawmakers back for a special session.

A two-thirds majority of each chamber also can vote to extend the session by as long as 30 days or come back for a special session, which could begin immediately after adjourning Saturday.

The legislature also could debate the budget during the already-scheduled April 21 veto session, when lawmakers debate any bills the governor had vetoed.

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