Despite pressure from citizens in Northern Virginia who wanted a sales tax referendum for transportation, education, or both, the General Assembly chose “none of the above,” folded its tents, and left Richmond Saturday.
By mid-week, Gov. Mark Warner (D) had promised to resurrect a one-cent sales tax referendum for Northern Virginia and attach it to a similar bill for Hampton Roads that will be taken up next month when the legislature convenes for a one-week veto session.
“I think it’s going to happen,” said Del. Vince Callahan (R-34th) of McLean, who is appropriations chairman.
“All [Warner] has to do is take that Hampton Roads bill, and add Northern Virginia. I think it will sail through the General Assembly,” Callahan said. Such a tax, which would go before voters Nov. 5, would add a one cent increase for transportation to the existing 4.5 cent sales tax.
“I am getting an awful lot of flack from some constituents on both sides: both for supporting it, and not supporting to the extent it didn’t go through,” he said of the sales tax referendum.
“I had campaigned last year [saying] I would support a sales tax referendum. I carried out my campaign promise."
Callahan said he would have preferred a measure for a half-cent increase that would round off the sales tax in Northern Virginia to five cents on the dollar.
And, he would have divided the proceeds between transportation and education.
“What happened [was] it was almost pre-ordained you would not get both education and transportation” on the same bill, or even in the same legislative session, he said.
“It’s a disappointment for me,” Callahan said. But Democrats in the House of Delegates "said if they didn’t get both, they didn’t want either one, and they voted accordingly,” said Callahan. “I happen to be one of those who would support education.”
THE LEGISLATIVE delegation from Northern Virginia was unanimous in its support for a referendum, said Callahan, except for three votes: Dick Black (R-32nd), Bob Marshall (R-13th) and Scott Lingamfelter (R-31st), he said.
“Dick Black was one that wouldn’t go along when we united behind a sales tax referendum for transportation,” Callahan said. “All the others, including all of [the] Fairfax [delegation] went along,” Callahan said.
“So Dick Black was one of the ones who was not part of the team. I don’t criticize him; he ran on this,” Callahan said. “He said he was not going to vote on anything smelling of taxes.”
“My biggest accomplishment was the passing of the budget,” Callahan said. “I emphasized this as my first year as chairman of the committee. I take a little pride in getting this budget through,” he said, even though this was “probably my most difficult budget year.”
“And we restored the proposed raid by Gov. Warner on the transportation trust fund,” Callahan said. “To be bipartisan, [former Gov.] Gilmore had proposed it before him.
“We addressed meeting funding deficiencies for the standards of quality. We preserved the safety net for [Virginia’s] neediest citizens, primarily mental health,” Callahan said.
“And we provided some salary increases for state employees.”
After receiving no raises last year, state employees will get bonuses of 2.5 percent in FY 2003, with 2.5 increases to their baseline salaries in FY 2004, Callahan said.
His own bill, asking that voters consider $900 million in general obligation bonds for higher education this fall, passed. If voters approve, it will provide $900 million for classrooms, labs and facilities, Callahan said.
“I worked with all the college presidents and got all their ‘must have’ projects,” said Callahan. “We haven’t had a bond referendum [for education] in 10 years.”
The legislature passed two other bills to provide funding “for colleges all over the commonwealth,” Callahan said. “It includes funding for all three George Mason University campuses."
Another successful bill sponsored by Jim Dillard (R-41st), will provide $119 million for state parks.
CALLAHAN WAS in Richmond when his tax bill from Fairfax County arrived at his home in east McLean.
He was notified of a $40,000 rise in his assessment, he said, the third straight year of a double-digit increase. “I am not alone,” he said.
“Because of the huge rise in assessments, the Board of Supervisors is not going to reduce the tax rate to equalize it. They are going to take every cent they can get. People are literally being priced out of their houses,” Callahan said.
Those with middle incomes, and retirees, are particularly affected, he said.
“They should do something to reduce it to mitigate the impact,” Callahan said. “I suspect there will be some members of the board who will propose it, and they will get voted down … I find it difficult to believe Fairfax County is in the dire financial straits they claim."
“When we did the state budget, we wanted to include a salary increase for state employees. They haven’t had a raise in two years.
We made it a priority. We came up with a 2.5 percent bonus, and then a 2.5 actual increase in salary [in FY 2004].
“The [Fairfax] Board of Supervisors just gave Tony Griffin a seven percent raise. When you’re in bad shape, you don’t do that,” he said.