Thursday, March 25, 2004

RICHMOND — The top House budget negotiator said yesterday he is opposed to raising sales and income taxes because his constituents in Northern Virginia will be the hardest hit by the proposed increases.

Citing newly released statistics, House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said Northern Virginians pay 44 percent of all income taxes collected in the state. The Fairfax County Republican delegate also noted that Fairfax County residents pay $1.7 billion in taxes for state services, but receive $600 million in those services.

Mr. Callahan added that 26 percent of the state’s income-tax revenue comes from Northern Virginians who earn more than $100,000 a year.

“And you want to raise income taxes, so we can carry the rest of the state on our backs? We’ve been doing that already,” he said. “It puts legislators in Northern Virginia in a very difficult position.”

Mr. Callahan’s comments came after yesterday’s budget meeting, where the nine appointed House and Senate negotiators made some progress on minor nonmonetary budget items.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, continued to promote his $59 billion tax-and-spending plan, which he says would mean lower taxes for 65 percent of Virginians.

Appearing on WRVA Radio in Richmond, Mr. Warner said an increase in the state’s sales or income tax could end the budget stalemate, which forced him to call lawmakers back into a special session last week. Although he didn’t specify a preference, Mr. Warner said raising the sales tax by one percentage point would generate more money to fund state services.

“I have said at times that one or the other would be a good way to break the logjam,” Mr. Warner told WRVA.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said budgets before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

“There’s enormous urgency to get this done quickly,” he said.

Yesterday’s meeting lasted less than 15 minutes. The same nine delegates and senators met for less than three minutes Wednesday before adjourning for the night.

Mr. Callahan and Mr. Chichester will meet privately at 10:30 this morning to discuss taxes and spending.

“We’re going to talk about everything — funding, sales taxes, income taxes and the economy,” Mr. Callahan said.

The full House and Senate will meet again tomorrow.

The House will hear a Senate plan to end the tax on food and the sales-tax exemption for utilities, which would allow those companies to pass on the increased cost to customers. The measure would raise about $128 million over two years, most of which would be devoted to salary increases for state troopers and local sheriffs’ deputies.

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