- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

House Republicans hope the days of tucking tax increases into appropriation bills have ended with the elimination of the Senate’s tax-embedded spending plan last month.

“I think that at least for the foreseeable future we put that snake to rest,” Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican, told The Washington Times. “It’s not about spending money for roads; it’s a very fundamental constitutional question.”

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican, agreed.

“The resolve of this caucus has ended — hopefully permanently — the practice of holding the entire budget hostage by unconstitutionally embedding tax increases within it,” Mr. Howell said last week after the Republican-controlled House and Senate passed a two-year, $72 billion budget.

Earlier this year, the House rejected a Senate measure that included new taxes for transportation. The Senate subsequently sewed similar tax proposals into a two-year budget proposal.

House Republicans said the move violated a clause in the state constitution that says, “No law shall embrace more than one object.” Simply put, a revenue bill should map out the taxes and fees that the state needs to pay for services, and appropriation bills should outline how the money is spent.

“Unfortunately, what the Senate tried to do in a large way was to merge tax increases with the spending of tax dollars, which was something that has never been done in Virginia,” House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican, told The Times. “They were attempting to hold us hostage to get the tax increases through, knowing it made everyone look bad if we didn’t have a budget done.”

That put pressure on House members, who were not certain whether school aid and state services would be put in jeopardy if they didn’t pass the Senate’s tax-embedded budget plan before July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

That tactic paid off for Senate Republicans in 2004, when 17 House Republicans broke ranks with their party leadership to approve a $1.4 billion tax increase proposed by the Senate and endorsed by Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat. Once senators knew they had the votes for the increase, they drew up and passed a separate tax bill.

Mr. Griffith said state budgets have included minimal fees — such as a $1 license plate fee — “which we shouldn’t have done,” but the tax increases the Senate proposed this year were simply too much to ignore.

“Sometimes you swallow that toad,” Mr. Griffith said. “But a $1 billion tax increase, it’s too big a toad to swallow.”

After several weeks of political gamesmanship, Senate Republicans late last month removed the tax proposals from that chamber’s budget bill and agreed to take up transportation in a special session this fall.

“The Senate didn’t seem to acknowledge we weren’t going to crack until May,” Mr. Griffith said. “You have to believe from looking at those facts that they felt we would crack.”

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