- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

RICHMOND — Only five Virginians have taken advantage of a 2-year-old program that allows them to donate more of their money to the state in taxes — to the total sum of $6,602.

As the House and Senate wrangle over whether to raise taxes, the results of the “Tax Me More” program would indicate that taxpayers prefer to hold on to their hard-earned cash rather than give it to the state.

“I find it interesting that people that wanted to be taxed more have not contributed more to the fund,” said Delegate M. Kirk Cox, Chesterfield Republican and author of the bill that created the program in 2002.

“The purpose was for people who feel they are undertaxed to step up to the plate and help out the state government,” said Mr. Cox, who is opposed to general tax increases. “Six thousand dollars over two years is not very good.”

Throughout the budget negotiations, those senators who support increasing the state sales, cigarette and income taxes have said their constituents want to pay higher taxes so the state’s services can be better funded.

But delegates such as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. who have stood firm against general tax increases wonder why those senators haven’t contributed to the more than $12 billion General Fund that pays for state services and government operations. The Tax Me More program is part of the General Fund.

The Fairfax Republican said he admires the five donors. “I chastise all the others who want higher taxes that don’t contribute,” he said. “It’s hypocritical.”

Among the five donors is Sen. D. Nick Rerras, a Norfolk Republican who voted against the Senate tax-increase plan. He donated about $50.

“There are a lot of citizens that are continually advocating for higher taxes and doing away with tax breaks,” Mr. Rerras said. “It’s good for people to have a mechanism where they can contribute back to the state, but not many people are interested in contributing of their own volition.”

When he proposed the bill, Mr. Cox said, he expected the program to add $50,000 a year to state coffers. The House and Senate unanimously passed the bill.

However, few who support tax increases have encouraged Virginians to donate to the program.

Gov. Mark Warner doesn’t mention the program when he touts his tax and spending proposal to taxpayers statewide, his spokeswoman said. The Democratic governor wants to raise $1 billion in revenue by increasing the state sales, cigarette and income taxes.

“What you’re seeing in public hearings across the state right now is that Virginians are willing to go out and publicly link the taxes they pay with services they receive,” said Ellen Qualls, the governor’s spokeswoman.

“It’s a fun gimmick to talk about, but it doesn’t negate the larger issue that services … cost money,” she said. “It’s not like if the governor talks to 10,000 people and they all give 20 bucks that will make a dent in the $12 billion in need.”

Other lawmakers also don’t mention the program to their constituents.

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