Taxes are a hot topic heading into the summer season, popping up in primary elections last week and showing up on the radar screen of a Northern Virginia politician with his eyes on the speakership of the House of Delegates.

Del. John H. "Jack" Rust Jr. (R-Fairfax), a bright legislator who will be a contender for speaker if the GOP captures the House this fall, is promoting a "Five for Five" program that would send 5 percent of net individual income taxes to cities and counties and require them to lower real estate taxes by the same percentage.

Rust said the program would return $207 million to taxpayers and dedicate $306 million to localities.

Rust, a member of the powerful Finance Committee, wants to wean localities from a reliance on real estate taxes and shift them to income taxes, a move that he says means that "tax revenue will more accurately reflect the economic activity in the locality."

"Five for Five is a down payment on tax reform, a significant tax cut for Virginia's citizens and another example of Republican leadership providing responsible reductions in the cost of government," Rust said.

Of course, the General Assembly would have to sign off on Rust's idea.

Taxes also were a focal point of the hottest primary in the state, the contest in Richmond's prosperous West End between Del. Anne G. Rhodes (R-Richmond) and insurance executive Ruble A. Hord III.

In their only debate of the campaign, Hord declared: "This race is about taxes," criticizing Rhodes for endorsing a study of the state tax structure along the lines that Rust has talked about.

Rhodes pointed out that the study idea cleared the House on a 95 to 0 vote.

`Green' Activists Measure Political Climate

Meanwhile, the state's leading "green" groups already are looking to the fall, sending a questionnaire to every legislative candidate to ask their views on growth management, transportation reform, out-of-state trash, hog and poultry waste, drinking water allocation and wetlands protection.

The detailed survey was sent out by the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Campaign Virginia and the Southeastern Association for Virginia's Environment.

Robb Caught in a High-Tech Minefield

Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) has stepped into a political minefield laid by Republicans and business lobbyists over the Y2K software glitch, previewing a fierce year 2000 fight with Senate challenger George Allen (R) for the support of high-tech business leaders.

Business groups allied with GOP leaders such as Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, of Northern Virginia, have pushed for legislation to limit liability for damages from year 2000 computer failures. That has forced Democrats to choose between two loyal constituencies: trial lawyers and technology companies.

Robb had taken an unusually high profile in working with backers of the Senate bill for a compromise that would avert a threatened White House veto.

But May 14, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce singled out Robb in the Senate for not voting for cloture to end a Democratic filibuster on the bill. "Sadly, Sen. Robb is missing in action," the group's executive vice president, Bruce Josten, wrote in a news release.

The bill had gotten entangled in a partisan dispute over Democratic attempts to force votes on gun control measures in a separate juvenile justice act, which ultimately was passed.

Robb's chief of staff, Thomas Lehner, has declared the U.S. Chamber persona non grata: "After pulling a stunt like that, we don't consider them or their lobbying tactics reliable. . . . From now on, we're going to deal with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce."

So far, Robb is getting support from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a major technology lobby, and the smaller Computer and Communications Industry Association, which called him a "high-tech hero." While Robb's mediation may have been clumsy, they said, the chamber's move opened a partisan rift among corporate groups.

"I'm very impressed at the fact that Robb would like to take a leadership role" in passing Y2K legislation, ITAA lobbyist Mark Perl said. "He is trying to find some balance that will benefit his constituents, as opposed to an individual interest group."

Not backing down, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's chief lobbyist, Lonnie Taylor, said Robb told him twice directly that he was not working on a competing White House-backed measure, when in fact he was.

Although Robb was just one of two Senate Democrats who won the Chamber of Commerce's "Spirit of Enterprise" award last year, with a 70 percent favorable rating from the group, he should not hold his breath for a 2000 endorsement.

"Since he stepped into the Senate [in 1989], Mr. Robb's overall performance is a low 42 percent on an annual basis," Taylor said. "That doesn't come anywhere close to getting an endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce."

Allen aides quickly billed the former governor as tech-friendly. Said spokesman Jay Timmons, "All the success and progress [Allen and Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R)] have had in making our state the new national leader in technology is being harmed by one senator -- Chuck Robb."

Exiting GOP Executive Trades Barbs

Never one to shy away from a fight, Chris LaCivita, the departing executive director of the state Republican Party, picked a friendly one the other day with Paul Goldman, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, after Goldman used his radio show in Richmond to suggest that LaCivita was abandoning a losing GOP cause.

Goldman, who has an afternoon talk show, compared LaCivita to an Army general shrinking from the challenge of D-day. LaCivita fired back an e-mail telling Goldman the real "invasion" will be Allen's U.S. Senate campaign next year against Robb (R).

LaCivita is leaving the state party to run Allen's campaign.

"And I really hope that someday your radio show will get a better time slot," LaCivita said.

Democrats Sound a Rallying Cry

Sen. Charles S. Robb has joined with state Democratic Party Chairman Del. Kenneth R. Plum (Fairfax) and Mark R. Warner, who is running for governor, in a fund-raising letter for the Democrats who are among the more than 1,000 people running for local and legislative offices this fall.

"We will not let the agenda of the far right of the Republican Party -- always just below the surface -- impose their hostile agenda on Virginia's families," the three said in their letter. "Don't let Virginia get caught in the Republican undercurrent -- that will carry us back."

The 23-member advisory board of the new Local Elected Democratic Caucus includes several pols from Northern Virginia, among them Katherine K. Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Fairfax Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly; Francis X. O'Leary, treasurer of Arlington County; and Eleanore C. Towe, of Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors.

Looking to Cover Truck Accidents, Too

The Northern Virginia politician who once scribbled out a tiny legislative amendment that led to Virginia's covered-truck law is now calling for new requirements on trucks that cause major highway accidents.

With the recent Springfield "mixing bowl" accident fresh in everyone's minds, former delegate and Congress member Leslie L. Byrne, a Falls Church Democrat running for the state Senate, said she would propose legislation requiring trucking companies to reimburse the state and localities for cleanup costs after major highway accidents.

"Irresponsible trucking barons must be held accountable," Byrne said.

In 1988, as a junior, back-bencher delegate, Byrne conspired with her more senior seatmate, the late delegate Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), to tack on a last-minute amendment to an innocuous bill about traffic accident reporting that required truckers to cover or secure their loads.