Sunday, April 25, 2004

RICHMOND — State lawmakers say they are being deluged by e-mail from constituents who want the budget impasse to end, but are as divided on proposed tax increases as the budget negotiators.

Antitax lawmakers are being encouraged to hold the line, while pro-tax lawmakers are being urged to keep fighting.

“I’m hearing from people to hold my ground,” said state Sen. Jay O’Brien, a Fairfax County Republican who is against the proposed tax increases. “They don’t want me to back off. But if you supported the tax increase, you are a galvanizing force for those who agree with you.”

If the state has no budget by June 30, many elements of government will be forced to shut down July 1. But local governments need to craft their budgets now.

The tone of constituents’ e-mail has grown more emphatic as the impasse has dragged on. Polite requests for a resolution to the standoff have given way to demands written in all capital letters, several exclamation points and sometimes expletives.

Friday marked the 101st day of what was supposed to be a 60-day session.

Delegate David B. Albo, an antitax Fairfax County Republican, said Virginians are evenly split on tax increases.

Mr. Albo said he tells his pro-tax constituents that Fairfax County would receive only 24 cents worth of services for every dollar paid in new state taxes.

“That does not make them happy,” Mr. Albo said. “A few have said if that’s the case, they would be better off raising local property taxes. At least we get to keep 100 percent of that money.”

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin said his constituents are frustrated that no deal is in place.

“It’s hard for me to explain to them why we don’t have a budget,” the freshman Arlington Democrat said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Ebbin said he receives e-mail from people asking for increased funding for education and mental health services. “They are eager for a budget, but people are also very passionate that the state provide more funding,” he said.

Those constituents are “definitely” willing to pay higher taxes, Mr. Ebbin said.

But Delegate Richard H. Black, a Republican representing Loudoun County, said his messages are more than 10-to-1 against higher taxes.

He said he heard from special-interest groups asking for tax increases at the beginning of the budget battle.

“Now there is just absolutely solid consensus here against the tax,” Mr. Black said. “The pro-tax communications have died out completely.”

Key senators are trying to hold together a coalition of 17 House Republicans who broke with their antitax-majority party to pass a tax plan that would raise about $690 million in net revenue.

The plan would also cut some taxes.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to act on the House plan today. Senators are likely to change the plan by adding new tax and fee increases.

Senators may also suggest changing the structure of the car-tax reimbursement program, one of the largest expenses in the budget.

The full House and Senate will vote on the revised plan tomorrow.

Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax County Republican, is one of the mavericks.

Mr. Dillard said he has heard little via e-mail, but during face-to-face conversations constituents tell him to “hang in there” and “stay with it.”

“All of them are saying we need to get it done,” he said.

Mr. Dillard said he wants higher taxes because of rising costs and increased school enrollment.

“Right now, we just don’t have enough money to run the state,” he said. “We haven’t had a tax increase since 1986 and we have cut out $1.5 billion in taxes since 1990.”

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