A proposed constitutional ceiling on Virginia state taxes failed today on a tie vote in the House of Delegates Finance Committee as two Republicans who supported a similar measure last week voted no today.
The dramatic committee action is a setback for the measure, but it remains alive in the committee and could again be put to a vote. Proponents of the limitation said they had not yet decided what their next move will be.
The vote followed two hours of sometimes heated debate on the proposed amendment, which has strong business backing and passed the Senate easily, but is opposed by Republican Gov. John N. Dalton and powerful House Democratic leaders.
Despite the opposition of Dalton, all 22 GOP House members had supported a similar proposal when it was rejected by the House last week. Today, Republican Dels. Martin H. Perper of Fairfax and Ray L. Garland of Roanoke made what proved to be crucial decisions to oppose the Senate-passed ceiling when it came to the Finance Committee.
Perper said after the vote that he now opposes the proposed amendment because it would not put a ceiling on local as well as state taxes.
"I'm all for tax limitations," he said, "but all we're doing here is trying to pass on to the taxpayers increases at the local level. The problem is at the local level."
Garland, who gave only half-hearted support to the Republican-backed measure in the House, was critical today of the formula in the proposed amendment that would tie tax increases to increases in personal income.
Of the three Northern Virginians on the 20-member Finance Committee, Perper and Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) voted against the proposed tax ceiling. Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William) voted for it.
The proposed amendment was drafted by a group of Lynchburg businessmen before passage of California's Proposition 13 made tax limitation a talk show topic. It would have put a ceiling on all state taxes in any one year of 7.49 percent of the average total personal income in the three previous years. This equals the percentage of personal income collected in state taxes in the year that ended last June 30 with a quarter-percent added as an arbitrary cushion.
State taxes could continue to increase with personal income growth, but the amendment would have required a two-thirds vote of both houses of the assembly to exceed the ceiling.
Sen. Elliot S. Schewl (D-Lynchburg), chief patron of the amendment, told the committee the proposal is based on a widespread feeling that state taxes should be allowed to grow but that the present tax burden on personal incomes should not increase.
Schewel said Virginia's current spending levels are moderate but are increasing at an alarming pace. "In each of the last 10 years, Virginia ranked between first and sixth among the states in its rate of tax increases," he said. "The number of state employes has doubled in 10 years."
Stambaugh argued that the proposed amendment would lock the state into a level of public services that might not satisfy future demand. "If we had adopted such an amendment 15 years ago, the ceiling would have been about 4.5 percent," he said. "We would not have been able to enact the sales tax and we would not have been able to build the community college system it financed."
The liberal Stambaugh and conservative House Speaker John Warren Cooke have taken the same view of the amendment. Cooke said after the surprising 27-to-11 Senate vote in favor of the proposal, "Government has to move with the times. This amendment would put a strait jacket on government in Virginia.