Faces flushed from beet red to dead white and voices go sharp enough to slice. At one point, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee threatened to have a spokesman for a taxpayers group thrown out of the Capitol.
"If you just want to come down here and criticize the state government I won't stand for it," roared state Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), chairman of the dullest sounding committee in the Senate, which every year about tax bill time puts on the greatest show in town.
"This body has fostered vast amounts of waste," charged the spokesman for a Richmond taxpayers group, whose general condemnation of "waste, graft and padded contracts" in the affairs of state provoked Willey's wrath.
The soaring rhetoric and sharp debate before a standing-room-only audience of 250 persons this week centered on two House-passed bills designed to cut taxes and a third to restructure Virginia's personal income tax. Though the bills were not killed until Tuesday morning, all of them were as dead a week-old mackerel before the public hearing even began.
"All taxes are bad . . . but you can't cut taxes without cutting services," said Willey, 70, who is rumored to have had a grip on the state's purse strings when Thomas Jefferson designed the Capitol.
Despite the poor prognosis, the tax bills were championed by private citizens, association spokesmen and House members who thundered mightily against taxation and for the downtroddedn.
The gentlmen of the Finance Committee sat in silver-baired contrast to the young turks from the House. The 15-member committee, composed of the most powerful members of the Senate, was obviously nettled by what some regarded as political showboating at their expense.
Tax-cuts have been the most controversial issue of this year's session, particularly after Gov. John N. Dalton revealed that the Commonwealth has an unexpected surplus of $201 million dollars. With that much leftover pie to slice, tax cutters began drafting an ambitious number of bills.
But it was apparent that relations between the House and Senate had not been helped by the tax fray.
"It's always a pleasure for me to be here," said Del. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton) in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'll be looking forward to seeing you come across the hall."