Virginia Republican Senator and former Governor George Allen and former Democrat Governor Doug Wilder appeared together at a press conference to blast Governor Mark Warner for supporting tax hikes. As a candidate, Warner vowed not to raise taxes, so a referendum would keep faith with voters, they said.
The House of Delegates has recommended a two-year budget of $58 billion that contains spending cuts and a proposal to raise cash by erasing business tax breaks. The Senate budget is $61.5 billion and relies on a broad array of tax hikes, including an increase in the sales tax from 4.5 cents to 5.5 cents.
Under the referendum scenario, lawmakers would pass a budget to cover basic necessities before the General Assembly adjourns March 13. With a spending plan in place, the separate question of higher taxes could be put to voters.
Wilder and Allen accused Warner of breaking campaign promises not to raise taxes, and suggested some lawmakers re-elected last fall did the same thing.
"Because the people of Virginia were promised their taxes would not be raised, we believe our fellow citizens deserve an opportunity to vote by referendum before such broken promises are enacted into law," Wilder said.
Since it's too late for the tax proposals to be part of a general election debate, Wilder and Allen said, the General Assembly should pass a base budget that covers core services without a tax increase and then put all additional revenue and spending proposals on the ballot. They noted that Warner and many lawmakers supported a 2002 referendum in which Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads voters rejected a sales-tax hike
Wilder further added that he would not have endorsed Warner had he known Warner would champion tax hikes.
"If I had any idea that he would be raising the taxes beyond what he promised to me," Wilder said, "I would not have been there."
House Speaker Bill Howell added, "you can certainly make a great case that it ought to go to a referendum."
However, the arrogance of some politicians is quite amazing. Senator John Chichester, author of the Senate plan said it would be impossible for Virginians to fully understand what they were voting for.
"There's no way we can convey to each voter all the ramifications," Chichester said. "It would require days of reading indeed, all the legislators don't go into that much detail. The idea, while it sounds good on paper, loses it in the common-sense arena. It would be like me voting in a referendum on the federal budget There's no way I could get up to speed on that."
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine went even further suggesting that those who wanted a voice were similar to a mob and... that "ever since Pontius Pilate allowed the crowd to make the hard decision, people who are afraid to lead have often used popular referenda to avoid their responsibilities."