But proponents of the bills are giving little chance they will get past the House Finance Committee, chaired by Delegate Harry J. Parrish, R-50th District.
Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, D-80th District, asked Parrish whether he should bother to bring persons to testify for his bill to raise the state cigarette tax from 2.5 cents to 20 cents a pack. He said Parrish told him he should if people are interested and “besides we’re going to hear all these bills at one time next Wednesday.”
“So being here awhile, I know a mass execution when I smell one,” Melvin continued.
Parrish said there is no organized effort to kill the bills.
“There will be open discussion on all of them,” he said. “I don’t know whether they’ll pass or not.”
Parrish repeated what he has said before this year: with 17 of 19 freshmen from 2001 elections and three of four new lawmakers elected last November signed onto no-tax pledges “you start counting votes I just don’t see any tax increase going through in 2003.”
And the recommendation by Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner is to reduce expenses, not increase revenue, he said.
Melvin, in a House floor address, said the whole notion of no-tax pledges “is stupid” because legislators’ job is to deal not only with appropriation of funds but also raising revenue, “which we seem to avoid increasingly more.”
The House spent a lot of time on the sales tax referendum issue for transportation and education needs last year, he said.
“Well, those needs are still there,” he said. “We need those roads in Hampton Roads like oxygen.”
Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd district, led the charge for the transportation referenda last year, and agrees Melvin has a point on needs, but the lesson learned from voters in November was don’t raise taxes.
“It’s real clear they [voters] do not want to raise tax rates,” Rollison said.
But Republicans face dissent among their ranks. House Education Committee Chairman Jim Dillard, R-41st District, of Fairfax said the state’s unmet needs in education cannot be ignored.
“I think we ought to get past the denial situation,” he said. “The Republican caucus like everybody else down here knows we don’t have the necessary resources to do what’s required by law. I think it’s disingenuous for the Republican caucus to say they are for education — we just don’t want to fund it.”
Many of the tax bills are expected to be redirected to a state tax code restructuring commission that pulled back from making any recommendations this year.
“I just don’t think that committee has done anything,” said Fairfax City Delegate Chap Petersen, D-37th District, who has two cigarette tax bills. “In the long run we’re all dead.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Parrish said. The committee did a lot of work last year but was not prepared to go into the detail required. “It would’ve been foolish to do it peacemeal.”
Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, D-36th District, is signed onto at least one cigarette tax bill but she doesn’t “think they’ll get very far until we really restructure the tax code.”
But the tax commission “just punted this year,” she said. Taxes can’t pass in an election year, she said.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (804) 649-8710.