- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

Some Virginia policy wonks might scratch their heads when they read in Governing Magazine that two politicians who championed the largest tax increase in the state’s history are the magazine’s “Public Officials of the Year.”

And some anti-tax stalwarts such as Grover Norquist might spit out their Wheaties when they see that Gov. Mark Warner and Sen. John H. Chichester are those officials.

But Mr. Warner, a Democrat, and Mr. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, will indeed receive the unprecedented joint honor from the District-based magazine at a Nov. 7 ceremony.

The award, given out for the past 10 years to leaders nationwide, is for “outstanding achievement in state and local government,” said Governing Magazine Executive Editor Alan Ehrenhalt.

He praised Mr. Warner and Mr. Chichester for their “skill” in getting the business community to endorse the tax plan and for winning majority votes “in a very skeptical legislature.”

One of the most senior legislators in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Mr. Chichester was at the center of the historic and extended financial debate.

The battle ended after 115 days when the legislature voted to raise the state sales, cigarette and real-estate taxes to balance the state’s two-year $60 billion budget. With the passage of the $1.38 billion plan, which also cuts taxes, Virginia still has some of the lowest taxes in the nation.

Mr. Chichester said he was “honored and humbled” by the award.

“The kind of work that I do does not engender excitement — it’s not like getting a base hit with the bases loaded,” he said. “I just did my job.”

But many like Mr. Norquist decry the tax increase.

The Washington Times first reported Sept. 3 that Mr. Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform was going to send out posters targeting Mr. Warner, Mr. Chichester and other Republicans who voted to raise taxes. Mr. Norquist, an adviser to the Bush administration, formally announced the “Virginia’s Least Wanted” posters on Tuesday.

Mr. Norquist called Mr. Chichester public enemy No. 1.

“This guy is a serial tax increaser,”he said.

Both Mr. Warner and Mr. Chichester say the tax-reform package was a needed investment in the state’s future.

After the budget was approved, Virginia’s AAA bond rating, which had been put on credit watch, was affirmed.

Economic gains over the past year produced a $323.8 million surplus, which has been earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the Water Quality Fund. It also will enable the state to accelerate one of the income-tax cuts approved in the tax package.

Every year, eight officials nationwide receive the award. Mr. Warner and Mr. Chichester are the only local officials to receive the honor this year.

In 1999, Governing Magazine gave Virginia a financial-management award.

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