Virginia's powerful Senate Finance Committee left little doubt tonight that it plans to shelve a controversial income tax revision plan that would raise the tax bills of many upper-income Northern Virginians.
"This bill is so complex," groused committee chairman Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond) at a crowded public hearing. "I don't understand it, and I'm chairman of the committee . . . and I'm not going to vote for anything I don't understand.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth), would cut income taxes for low and middle-income taxpayers and raise those of persons at the higher end of the income scale. It would knock out deductions for home mortages, medical expenses and charitable contributions, and replace them with a standard $4,500 deduction.
The bill passed the House of Delegates in a surprise vote last week, much to the dismay of many Northern Virginians, who feel it would unfairly increase the tax burden on homeowners in the Washington suburbs, where home costs are the state's highest.
The Finance Committee also showed little sympathy for a measure that would cut in half the state's 4-cent sales tax on food. That measure passed the House by a slim five-vote margin earlier this month over the objections of Gov. John N. Dalton. Final committee votes on both proposals are expected Tuesday.
Proponents of the food tax reduction have argued that such a measure would provide a vehicle for returning a portion of the state's expected $201 million budget surplus to the taxpayers. Dalton and others -- including his longtime budgetary ally Willey -- have maintained that enacting a tax cut without a commensurate reduction in state expenditures would be fiscally irresponsible.
"How do you expect us to cut taxes and increase Medicaid payments at the same time?" Willey asked a spokeswoman for the elderly at the hearing. "You're typical of a lot of people who want an increase in services on one hand and a tax cut on the other."
Speaking on the income tax measure, Fairfax Republican Delegates Vincent F. Callahan and Martin Perper said they disowned the measure after being deluged with mail and phone calls from angry constituents.
Perper, who conceded that he was "somewhat embarrassed" by his vote in the House in favor of the measure, cited new state Department of Taxation figures showing Fairfax County residents would pay nearly $7 million more annually if the bill were enacted.
Callahan, who prefaced his remarks by saying "I should have stayed home," asked the committee to study the measure further and postpone action for at least a year.