"Taxes!" shrieked the television reporter, doing a nice imitation of the shriveling Wicked Witch of the North who melted away when doused with water in the Wizard of Oz. "No, Noooooooooo."
The off-camera imagery in the press room of this musty state capitol was perfect for Virginia's 140 legislators who are just seven anxious weeks away from election day and dearly want to avoid the subject of higher taxes.
A couple of senators have privately suggested that Gov. Charles S. Robb and the legislature will have to confront a tax increase during the General Assembly session that begins in January.
All concerned would rather wait until after Nov. 8--election day--but there are growing indications that the state leaders won't have the luxury of waiting.
Robb is scheduled tomorrow to report on Virginia's still sluggish economy and a shortfall in revenue projections that he only hinted at during a news conference last week. On Tuesday, he briefed key legislators who left the session in less than good humor.
The officials declined public comment on what Robb planned to do, but Del. Richard M. Bagley, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said, "He didn't bring us over here to tell us we had a surplus."
Some officials have privately said Robb may order a cut of 2 percent in state spending for the fiscal year that ends next June. Robb twice before has cut spending, by 5 and 6 percent in most agencies. One assembly member said there also is renewed talk of a possible bond referendum to finance construction projects in the 1984-86 biennial budget.
If Robb, who has refused to rule out a tax increase next year, lays out a bleak economic picture as expected, it may force the candidates to start talking seriously and publicly about the prospect of higher taxes.
The 1985 campaign for governor is beginning to percolate nicely in the fall of '83.
The kingpin and key to the Republican prospects is former governor John N. Dalton, 52, recuperating in Richmond from lung cancer surgery.
Still very popular with state Republicans, Dalton is considered the best chance of regaining the statehouse the GOP lost to Robb under the banner of Marshall Coleman in 1981.
Just four weeks out of the hospital, Dalton recorded a campaign plug for a Henrico County supervisor and called in a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter for an interview. Dalton, who has returned to work part time but still is undergoing postoperative tests, said he wanted everyone to know he plans "to be a factor" in 1985.
He declined a follow-up interview with other reporters about his condition or his plans.
While GOP observers say Dalton could easily walk away with the nomination, there are still major "ifs" that could throw the campaign open for a spirited battle.
The first is whether Dalton will regain his health enough to undergo the rigors of campaigning and being governor. The second is whether he really wants the job again. According to friends, Dalton is enjoying his role as a Main Street lawyer and is reportedly making as much as $500,000 a year now.
He could be content to play a major power role in the background, but the interview served notice to key Republicans around the state that they shouldn't sign on with another candidate just yet.
At his news conference last week, Robb gave a glimpse of his view of the role of the press in covering state government. After deflecting a reporter's request to review documents on his highly touted review of state government, Robb said he would first determine whether there was a "legitimate public interest served."
"I'm not going to give you blanket permission at this time . . . ," he said. "The only way you can get the kind of candid assessment of many, many officials . . . is afford them some degree of confidentiality . . . otherwise, you get just plain mush.
"I'm quite cognizant of the fact that for most of you that view bumps right into your desires to know all the information," Robb said.
True enough, but then Robb added, "You the media have a tendency to then . . . become obsessed with the more interesting but essentially irrelevant aspects of recommendations that might have been offered or those where you can find some opportunity to create personality conflict or whatever, and I have to live by those rules but I don't have to encourage them."