Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner is going to raise your taxes. So is the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Practically the only consensus to emerge from this fractious, low-performing legislative session is that the time has come to get serious about reforming Virginia's tax structure, a hodgepodge of antiquated laws more suited to an agrarian, 19th-century society than to a state facing 21st-century problems.

Modernizing the tax code so that it helps, not hurts, local governments confronting bewildering and costly demands for services has long been a goal of state leaders.

But it has been much easier to study the issue to death than to do something.

As a candidate in 2001, Warner took a political risk by saying he would make tax reform his top priority as governor. But he punted last year after it became clear that Republican lawmakers had no appetite for that monumental task amid a $6 billion budget shortfall. Punting also allowed Warner to keep his no-new-taxes pledge intact, at least for a year.

Now, as governor and legislature crawl out of the fiscal morass and onto drier ground, both sides are sounding serious about tackling top-to-bottom tax reform.

"It's a top priority of mine," said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). "It's something we have to address."

Even in an election year, the usually tax-averse Republicans are waking up to the fact that revenues have fallen woefully short of spending commitments.

In the House, the Appropriations Committee has drafted a budget that imposes new fees on alcohol sales and drivers licenses -- taxes by any other name. The Senate Finance Committee budget also raises court fees.

The two budgets must be reconciled by the assembly's Feb. 22 adjournment; it's safe to say the final product will include new and higher fees.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed vote Jan. 29, several Republicans went out on a limb and joined Democrats in supporting a bill by Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax) to add a penny to the state sales tax, which would have generated $800 million, half for education and half for the general fund.

Dillard's bill died in the House Finance Committee on a 12-10 vote, astoundingly close, given the current climate. Committee Chairman Harry J. Parrish (R-Prince William) and other moderate Republicans bucked Howell's wishes and sided with six Democrats, including Dels. James F. Almand of Arlington and Robert D. Hull and Vivian E. Watts, both of Fairfax.

The Republican votes "took a lot of guts," said Dillard, the legislature's lonely Republican champion of massive increases in education funding.

As noteworthy as those pro-tax votes and fee increases may be, they are merely incremental steps that are more than offset by the resolutely anti-tax posture of most Republican lawmakers.

A legislative panel that conducted a lengthy study of the tax code produced one major piece of legislation for the assembly's majority to embrace -- a repeal of Virginia's tax on estates of $1 million or more, which generates about $130 million annually for the state.

Republicans and many election-minded Democrats have jumped on that particular bandwagon, much to the consternation of Warner, who insists on making any estate tax repeal part of a larger tax restructuring. Warner is considering major amendments to the repeal bill, which has been approved by veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature.

The disagreement over the estate tax repeal could indicate a brutally partisan exchange between Warner and the legislature, because no matter how hard Republicans try to make tax reform "revenue-neutral," there will necessarily be winners and losers in tax restructuring. The math doesn't work out any other way.

For example, Warner and other Democrats could push for a substantial increase in the cigarette tax, which is the nation's lowest, or for a higher gasoline tax, which advocates say is a consumption-based user fee that has not kept up with highway funding demands.

Democrats and Republicans would quarrel over increasing the tax burden on the state's wealthiest residents or trimming exemptions and other breaks for the elderly.

Tax restructuring would allow lawmakers to address the many exemptions for corporations, charitable foundations, nonprofits and other groups that have proliferated in recent years, at an annual cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

In short, tax restructuring is a politician's nightmare: It has no sex appeal as a campaign issue and is loaded with many election-time land mines.

Yet, there is a consensus to do something on taxes, albeit a fragile one that could blow away in the slightest partisan breeze.