- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

RICHMOND — Anti-tax groups today will urge the General Assembly to finally eliminate the unpopular car tax this year as they give “No Car Tax” cupcakes to each legislator arriving for the session’s opening day.

The groups’ members said they will demand that lawmakers use a projected $919 million budget surplus to eliminate the car tax or give Virginians other tax relief.

“We are urging the governor and assembly to use the massive surplus to end the car tax and repeal last year’s unnecessary tax increases,” said James T. Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief.

Last year, the Republican-controlled assembly passed a $1.38 billion tax increase package that raises the sales, cigarette and real estate taxes.

The legislature also implemented a $950 million cap on the amount the state pays to localities for money lost under the car-tax relief program. The cap ensures that drivers will pay higher car-tax bills next year as they buy more expensive cars and localities continue to get the same amount of money from the state.

During the session, which convenes at noon today, lawmakers will take up a host of bills designed to help taxpayers.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter has a bill that would lift the cap imposed on the car tax relief program.

“This was a knife pointed directly at the heart of Northern Virginia and [the] Tidewater [area],” the Prince William County Republican said. “We have done irreparable damage to a very precious contract.”

Lawmakers have promised to eliminate the car tax since 1998.

Mr. Parmelee and anti-tax legislators have the support of the Republican Party of Virginia State Central Committee, which last month adopted a resolution asking for the end of the car tax or the repeal of the tax increases, or both.

“The surplus should be invested wisely,” the resolution reads. “The best return on investment is for the government to return the majority of the surplus to the taxpayers who are responsible for it.”

Most lawmakers believe there will be little success at repealing the tax increases or ending the car tax this year, when all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for re-election. Lawmakers also are worn out from last year’s extended battle over taxes.

“There’s pervasive exhaustion from last year,” said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican who opposed the tax increases.

Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform, said yesterday there will be consequences for lawmakers who supported the tax increases last year.

Mr. Lingamfelter has authored a bill that would require the governor to have someone conduct an outside audit of government agencies.

Mr. Cuccinelli will propose a bill that would limit the growth and spending of the state government to be in line with population growth and inflation.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has proposed using the surplus for one-time initiatives, to help transportation and to speed up a planned reduction of the grocery tax.

Most Republican leaders agree with Mr. Warner’s proposal, but have said they would like to end the accelerated sales-tax collection procedure, a quick-fix system where large businesses pay sales taxes based on the prior year’s sales. The system began in 2002 to balance the state budget.

Several bills have already been filed to end the accelerated sales-tax system.

Tonight, Mr. Warner will deliver his third State of the Commonwealth address.

During the session, the legislature will debate transportation spending, medical-malpractice reform and social issues, such as amending the Virginia Constitution to affirm that marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman.

New Delegate Paula Miller arrived in Richmond yesterday and is learning her way around the Capitol. “It’s been exciting, and a whirlwind,” the Norfolk Democrat said.

Last month, Mrs. Miller narrowly defeated anti-tax Republican Michael Ball for the seat previously held by Republican Thelma Drake. Mrs. Drake was elected to Congress in November, and stepped down from her House seat with a year left on her term.

Also today, House Speaker William J. Howell will announce changes to House committees, a move that is expected to generate some discussion.

Delegate L. Preston Bryant Jr. has learned that he will be removed from the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which crafts the budget. Most believe the Lynchburg Republican lost his committee seat as payback for leading the tax-increase effort last year.

The session is scheduled to adjourn Feb. 26.

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