Because some type was inadvertently dropped in a story yesterday on a proposed rule change before the Virginia General Assembly, the vote on the measure was omitted. The rule change that would have forced the full House to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment failed on a 36-to-34 vote in the Democratic caucus, which includes 79 members of the 100-member House.
THE VIRGINIA General Assembly, having failed to enact Gov. Mills E. Godwin's tax program last year, is back in Richmond today to face the consequences. Revenues haven't met budget estimates and the options are plain enough: Either raise taxes, cut the state's two-year budget adopted a year ago, or do a little of both. This year's response is anything but clear, however. What with the entire House of Delegates up for election, and various other politicians maneuvering on behalf of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, you're not likely to hear much drum-beating for new or higher taxes. Moreover, Gov. Godwin, after several years of over-optimism about revenues, resulting in spending cuts and hiring freezes, is not eager to be rebuked again. He isn't likely, therefore, to surprise anyone by seizing the intiative.
It's too bad. For a lameduck governor who says he has no further political ambitions would be in a fine position to exert some leadership in developing a reasonable tax program. But as things apparently stand, the leaders in Richmond have agreed to leave it up to the House appropriations and finance committees to produce some sort of joint porposal. That arrangement is a gamble, for it was poor coordination between these two committees last year that brought down the governor's college construction program, which was to have been financed by a tax on newly mined coal. Still, there is considerable pressure this time around not to let similar intercommittee disagreement spoil the general effort to erase what now appears to be a budget deficit of about $120 million.
However unpleasant an election-year approval of some tax increases may seem to the legislators, the prospect of severe reductions in states services isn't exactly exhilarating, either. While there surely will be some budget cuts (and perhaps one place to begin would be in the capital construction program), there are some taxes and new sources of revenue that deserve serious consideration. As we have noted (till hell wouldn't have it): there is the tobacco tax, which could be quadrupled and still be under the national average. There are also proposals to treat capital gains as ordinary income for tax purposes. And there is a strong argument to be made for increasing the income tax rates at the top levels. There may prove to be support for an increase in the sales tax, which might be shared by the state and local governments.
In Northern Virginia, there is still a need to secure revenues that could be used to meet the localities' rising Metro transit system costs. Though the legislative delegation appears reluctant to press a local-option gasoline tax increase, the effort ought to be revived. Indeed, all of these financial proposals ought to be considered promptly, for this is an odd-year "short session" for the General Assembly.