Mindful of taxpayer revolts nationally and traditionally skeptical about innovations elsewhere, Virginia lawmakers are expected to be attentive to tax-cut proposals when the state's General Assembly convenes Wednesday in a year in which all 140 legislative seats are up for election.
"The dominant issue is going to be bills and resolution of the Proposition 13 syndrome," said Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), referring to the California tax-cut plan."I don't know how much support they (the bills) are going to have, but they are going to provoke a lot of debate this session."
Other major issues expected to be an integral part of the Assembly session are the heated and perennial debates about the Equal Rights Amendment, annexation and bingo reforms. Legislative leaders say pressure is mounting to give prominent consideration to California-style tax limitation proposals.
Even before the California vote made taxes a talk-show topic, an organization of Virginia business leaders was working on a proposal to limit state spending to a fixed percentage of total personal income in the state.
None of the proposals filed to date would dramatically affect state programs or budget policy because the ceilings they propose would allow state spending to continue at its present rate.
Backers of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. constitution hope the same election-year jitters apply when the predominantly male legislature begins taking yet another look at that women's rights measure.
"Last year, opponents of the ERA assumed it would be a dead issue by this election year," said Del. Elise Heinz (D-Arlington). But congressional extension of the time limit for securing ratification of the amendment has given ERA backers another chance "to get the legislators on record," she said.
Heinz said ERA supporters will try to target certain strong ERA oppoents and work for their election defeat if they continue to oppose the bill this year. Such a tactic is largely credited for the 1977 reelection defeat of former House Majority Leader James M. Thomson of Alexandria, a longtime ERA foe.
Neither chamber of the Virginia Assembly has ratified the amendment, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sex. The Senate fell one vote short of passage in 1977.
Brault and House Majority Leader A. L. Philpott (D-Henry) disagree about the battleground for this year's ERA struggle.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's back on the Senate side this year," said Philpott, noting that a House committee acted on ERA during the last session. Brault said the major question about ERA passage is in the House, which now should act first.
The legislature also will be asked to ratify the constitutional amendment on voting rights for the District of Columbia. Most legislative leaders express doubt that the measure will be passed.
Two other issues expected to attract significant attention are disposal of the $37 million surplus from the last budget and what Brault said will be a move to authorize popular initiatives and referendums in Virginia.
Only the Assembly now is allowed to originate constitutional amendments and statewide legislation.
Brault said a recent survey by mail questionnaire of 12,000 constituent households showed an overwhelming majority in favor of amending the state constitution to permit voter-initiated laws, such as California's tax-slashing Proposition 13.
Brault cautioned that such an amendment "would be a fundamental change in Virginia" and should be studied carefully before proposal.
Since Virginia is operating under a two-year budget adopted last year, the only concrete money issue in this session involves how to spend the surplus from the previous budget.
Gov. John N. Dalton has indicated that he will propose using half of the $37 million surplus to accelerate payment of state liquor store sales profits to city and county governments. The Republican governor is expected to recommend that the rest of the surplus be used for various state agency needs, including construction projects authorized by a state bond issue in 1977. Several projects included in the bond issue have not been started because construction bids exceeded state estimates.
Local government officials are insistent about obtaining a major share of the state surplus, but some legislative leaders want the state to use all the money for its own needs.
"My feeling is that this is state money and it should go for state purposes," Philpott said. "There are ways we can use it that also would help local governments. If we can speed construction of medium-security prisons, for instance, that will help relieve pressure on local jails."
Northern Virginia legislators, with near unanimity, are preparing for another uphill fight to win Assembly authorization of a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to help finance Metro operating costs.
After easy passage in the Senate last year, the regional sales tax proposal fell one vote short of passage in the House, where the leadership opposed it.
"It was very close last year, and it will be close again," said Sen. Omer L. Hirst (D-Fairfax), chairman of Northern Virginia's delegation.
The bill that will be introduced this year provides for a referendum on the tax in the Northern Virginia cities and counties that would levy it. The bill also provides for offsetting reductions in real estate taxes.
Brault expects that bringing the sales tax issue before the Assembly during an election year will make passage more difficult, but Del. Vincent R. Callahan Jr (R-Fairfax County) hopes provision for a referendum will discourage opposition.
"I think we'll have the votes," Callahan said."I don't see how people can vote against a referendum. In effect, it will be a referendum on Metro itself."
Northern Virginians again will bid for a law school at George Mason University, this time through merger with the International School of Law in Arlington. They also will seek Assembly approval of bonds to build a commuter toll road paralleling the Dulles Access Road.
Two other issues of particular interest to Northern Virginia will be the decades-old feuding between cities and counties about annexation and a proposal to tighten regulation of bingo games, the only legal form of gambling allowed in the state.
Several persons have been convicted on criminal charges in connection with bingo games in Alexandria and Fairfax County. Alexandria Common-wealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig, recently acquitted of taking bribes from a city bingo sponsor, faces more trials on bingo-related charges while the Assembly is in session.
Among other bills for Assembly consideration are a proposal to prohibit service-station ownership by oil producing and refining companies; a Senate-passed bill revamping state rape laws, including a provision for punishment for criminal contact other than rape, and a bill drafted by a study commission headed by Sen. Joseph V. Gartland (D-Fairfax) that would satisfy federal guidelines for protection of tidal areas.
The Assembly usually meets for a 30-day session in odd-numbered years and a 60-day session in even-numbered years when biennial budgets are adopted. Both chambers can extend the shorter sessions, and that legislators are expected to meet this year for about 40 to 45 days.