With the specter of a higher income tax now on the horizon Mount Vernon District political leaders are keeping their options open.
The latest tax and spend plan, as proposed by House Speaker S. Vance Wilkens Jr. (R-Amherst) in Richmond, would allow Northern Virginia voters to split the difference between an income tax increase for school construction and a sales tax increase for transportation projects. The dual tax approach cleared the House Finance Committee on Monday.
After a 13 to 9 victory in the Finance Committee's morning vote, Wilkins' plan was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee that afternoon by 11 to 10. The entire concept faces uncertainty in the Senate.
After weeks of seesawing on various sales tax proposals to address the critical needs in both education and transportation, Del. Jeannemarie A. Devolites (R-Fairfax) introduced the idea of a local initiative income tax rather than a sales tax late last week.
Her main rationale was an income tax "would keep every dollar raised at home." The proposal met with mixed reaction, particularly among rural Republicans who were fearful that such a localized approach would leave their schools with no relief.
Wilkens' main objection to a statewide referendum on any tax to support education needs is that he views school construction as "a local responsibility." He feels each area should make its own decisions on education needs. He believes the decisions should not be imposed at the state level.
OPTIONS STILL OPEN
Delegate Kris Amundson (D-44) reacted to the latest turn of events by keeping an open mind. "There's no question Northern Virginia has real needs in both education and transportation," she said.
"I have supported the sales tax referendum because it allows people to express their opinions. We need to keep our options open, My preference has always been to let the people's voice be heard," Amundson emphasized. "But I definitely prefer the sales tax to the income tax approach."
Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman took more of a wait-and-see stance. "We don't know enough about the income tax proposal yet to know if it's good or not. We don't even know what's going to happen in the next few days," he explained. "It's kind of like living in a house by the side of the road and watching the traffic go by."
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman, Gerald W. Hyland, Mount Vernon District, is still hoping for the sales tax. "Our position taken a year and a half ago was for a one cent increase in the sales tax with an even split between education and transportation," he said.
"Obviously the Speaker is against an education bill. But unless we have both on the ballot in Fairfax County I don't think the chances for passage are good. If both are on I think the chances are good as long as we identify the projects to be funded," Hyland explained.
"What is interesting is that years ago the Fairfax County Board Of Supervisors asked the General Assembly to give us the right to impose an income tax to address our transportation problems, and that was without a referendum," Hyland remembered.
"What we got back from the General assembly was an authorization to do so but it had a five year sunset provision and it required us to go to referendum. Therefore, it was not done," he said.
"I felt then, as I do now, that people will not vote in favor of an income tax, particularly at this time when real estate assessments are showing a double digit increase. But there was a recent poll taken indicating that people might support an income tax increase. I just hope we get something that will help us," Hyland emphasized.
The existing bill most favored by Hyland is that introduced by Senator Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William). "I have taken a position of support in behalf of Senator Colgan's bill because it offers the only relief," he noted. As a spokesperson for the Virginia Association of Counties, Hyland also noted that that organization was unequivocally behind Colgan's approach.
However, Colgan announced on Monday that he now opposes his own legislation. Wilkins had the Colgan bill amended to further his income tax plan thereby changing its original intent. Colgan has expressed little faith in an income tax approach being passed by the voters of Northern Virginia.
There remains three tax options open to the General Assembly:
* A statewide sales tax geared to education needs. It calls for a one half cent increase to build new and restore existing school buildings;
* A regional sales tax targeted at Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. It would increase the sales tax by one half cent in Northern Virginia and one cent in Hampton Roads to fund transportation projects as identified by those regions; and
* A regional income tax allowing jurisdictions to raise the state income, which ranges from 2 percent to 5.75 percent, by as much as one-half percent with the extra revenue going to local school construction. The jurisdictions covered are the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.