Defiant Dems propose tax hikes

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If tax increases are off the table in the Republican-led Virginia General Assembly this year, someone needs to tell Northern Virginia delegates Patrick Hope and Vivian Watts.

Mr. Hope, an Arlington Democrat, unveiled a plan Tuesday that would increase the state’s cigarette tax from $1.15 to the national average of $1.45 and use the majority of the money to help grant relief to the car tax auto owners have to pay that is partially subsidized by the state.

The move would also raise the excise tax on tobacco products from 10 percent of the wholesale price to 50 percent.

It would direct 92 percent of the annual revenue — about $265 million — to local governments for car tax relief and 8 percent, or $23 million, toward tobacco cessation and prevention programs in the state.

Even in the face of an overwhelmingly tax-averse Republican majority, he said this time would be different. For example, he introduced similar legislation last year that was summarily rejected, but the revenues in that bill were steered toward Medicaid.

“How would you like your car tax to be halved?” he said at a news conference. “The money stays in the economy, it stays in Virginia’s [families], and it’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, Del. Vivian A. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, is pushing legislation that would add an additional recordation tax in Northern Virginia and increase the sales tax in Northern Virginia by 0.5 percent for transportation projects there, among other measures, in an effort to shore up more cash to fund the state’s depleted transportation system.

Ms. Watts, a former transportation secretary for the state, said with a $20 billion maintenance and construction hole over the next 20 years, more must be done in the way of a dedicated stream of revenue for transportation.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s $3 billion transportation plan approved by last year’s General Assembly — the largest one-time infusion for the state’s clogged transportation system in a generation — will have to be paid off by the next four governors, she noted.

“We’re at the bottom of the well,” she said. “We’ve gone through the bedrock.”

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