The taxpayer revolt that began with California's Proposition 13 appears to be warming up in Virginia with a bipartisan drive to allow voters to put initiatives and referendums on the ballot.
Taxpayers' alliances, which view the plan as a way to introduce tax cutting measures to voters, are at the core the drive. But supporters say the plan also is gaining favor from groups which see the initiative-referendum process as a means of putting non-tax issues to a direct vote of the people.
"It's a funny issue because you have both conservatives and liberals for it and conservatives and liberals against it," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R.-Fairfax), who sponsored an initiative-referendum proposal in 1969.
"All we want is the right to put issues directly on the ballot as they do in 23 other states and the District of Columbia. . . . It's a safety valve for voter discontent," said Sen. Charles S. Waddell (D-Loudoun), who twice has pushed for such legislation.
The Virginia Constitution does not provide for initiative or referendum. Last week, a group of about 70 citizens met in Annandale to kick off a drive for a constitutional amendment to allow initiative and referendum in Virginia. Gwen Cody, acting state chairman of Virginians for Initiative and Referendum, which sponsored the meeting, said the group is trying to gather statewide support. Cody said the group is considering a petition drive but primarily is urging citizens to lobby state legislators to introduce the proposal in the General Assembly.
Among Northern Virginia legislators at the meeting were Waddell and Callahan.
The proposal gained little support from the senior member of the Northern Virginia delegation, Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax).
"I think we should have a limited form of initiative and referendum. I don't think it should be available for revenue and tax measures," said Brault, who is chairman of the Senate's Privileges and Election Committee which has twice rejected initiative-referendum proposals.
"As far as I'm concerned, the matter has been resolved," Brault added. "The committee decided against recommending an amendment for initiative and referendum, and I don't think there's a chance to get it out of committee."
An initiative enables citizens to put proposed legislation on the ballot and have it enacted into law by a direct vote of the people. A referendum places an enacted law, or sections of it, before voters for approval or rejection.
The process has been used in other states to enact legislation ranging from consumer and environmental issues to rent control and tax measures.
Approval of the plan would require an amendment to the state Constitution, a tortuous process in Virginia. The proposal would have to get majority approval from two sessions of the General Assembly. An added twist is that the second session would have to come after an election of the House. After that, the proposal would be put to the voters, with a simple majority required for approval.
Thus, even if the proposal were approved in the upcoming 1981 session, the second General Assembly could not come until 1982, after the next House election.
Much of the conflict over initiative-referendum proposals is philosophical. It has been described as the Jeffersonian theory of representative government vs. the Athenian theory of pure democracy. t
Proponents argue that such initiative and referendum increase citizen awareness and voter turnout and result in reforms that legislators might reject because of influence from powerful lobbying groups. In addition, supporters argue, initiative and referendums force legislators to be responsive to voters' concerns.
Opponents contend that such a system would undermine the role of the legislatures, whose members are subject to recall by discontented constituents. lThe normal legislative process, opponents add, guards against poorly worded proposals that could backfire legally and against special interest campaigns slickly packaged to obscure crucial points.