RICHMOND, JAN. 30 -- The Virginia General Assembly soundly defeated several bills today that could have limited increases in real estate assessments, limits that were supported by many Northern Virginians angry about annual jumps in their tax bills.
The proposals would have allowed annual assessment increases to be limited, which state and local governments are not now allowed to do under the Virginia Constitution. All of the bills called for constitutional amendments permitting a ceiling on assessment increases.
"The people have sent their representatives to Richmond, and it's a sad commentary that they've gone down there and shot down everything the taxpayers need for relief," said Marcia Dykes, founder of an anti-tax group that sought to protest taxes by overthrowing the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"It's about time we got some legislators down there who are going to represent the people instead of special interest groups."
Local government officials have pleaded with legislators not to impose limits on assessments, arguing that it would reduce their fiscal flexibility because 44 percent of all local government operating funds come from property taxes.
A group of local government leaders met in Richmond today and -- with dissent only from Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Audrey Moore -- approved a resolution opposing any legislation limiting assessments.
In the past decade, land speculation, rapid development, the demand for new housing and offices and diminishing open space have fueled huge increases in land values in Northern Virginia. The cost of houses, whether modest bungalows inside the Capital Beltway or mansions in Great Falls, have doubled and even tripled, leading to an explosion in assessments and homeowner tax bills.
First-time homeowners and retired people on fixed incomes have been hit especially hard, and they formed the backbone of Dykes's tax revolt. Her group, called Citizens on Sensible Taxation, favors limiting annual increases in individual tax bills to no more than 5 percent.
One of the bills killed was sponsored by Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge) and called for a constitutional amendment allowing the General Assembly to set a limit on annual assessment increases. The bill was defeated on a 14 to 3 vote by the House Committee on Privileges and Elections.
An identical bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-McLean), was referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and apparently will not be acted upon by Monday, the deadline for each chamber to finish work on its bills and send them to the other chamber.
Also today, the Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly defeated a bill by Sen. Kevin G. Miller (R-Harrisonburg) that would have set assessments at the most recent sales price of a house, with future tax increases computed and paid by the owner when the house was next sold.
Sen. Dudley J. "Buzz" Emick Jr. (D-Botetourt) said that legislative action is not the way to deal with taxpayer unhappiness over rising assessments. If people are upset with the tax policies of their local officials, "run them out of office in an election year. Why is that so difficult for the taxpayers to do?" he said.
Also today, three actions revealed growing legislative discontent with the policies of Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
The Senate Finance Committee approved and sent to the floor a $462 million general obligation bond issue proposed by its chairman, Sen. Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton). The money would be used to finance college and library construction projects that Wilder proposed to delay.
In another swipe at Wilder, an administration plan that would have consolidated gubernatorial power over the state's housing agencies died in a Senate panel after testimony from developers and housing advocates.
Included was a proposal to allow the governor to hire and fire the director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority, an agency that makes low-income housing loans. That person now reports to an independent board.
Critics on the Senate's General Laws Committee said giving the administration too much power could lead to making bad loans of the sort that have prompted the national savings and loan crisis. The committee killed the proposals on a 7 to 5 vote.
"The checks and balances aren't there," Sen. Robert E. Russell (R-Chesterfield) said of Wilder's plan. "You don't put the fox in the henhouse."
Another Wilder initiative, which would save $711,000 a year by eliminating the daily expenses paid to persons who serve on 105 boards and commissions, got a cool reception in the Senate Finance Committee, which sent it to a subcommittee for further study.
Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III (D-Richmond) said that the loss of the money, $50 a day for most commissions, would discourage working people from accepting the appointments. Staff writer Donald P. Baker contributed to this report.