- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Virginia's General Assembly, which returns to Richmond today for its annual veto session, is expected to approve Gov. Mark Warner's proposal to allow voters in Northern Virginia to hold a referendum on whether to increase taxes to pay for transportation projects. Mr. Warner's proposal, which would be on the ballot later this year, would permit voters in nine jurisdictions to vote later this year on raising the 4.5 percent sales tax by one-half percent.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, and Republican tax-increase supporters like Delegate Jack Rollison III of Prince William assert that a tax increase is necessary to combat traffic gridlock. But their argument is a sham. By reordering spending priorities, Virginia legislators can fund needed road projects without the economic and political damage that a tax increase would do. Analysts of state spending trends, chief among them economist Peter Ferrara and Arthur Purves, head of the Fairfax County Taxpayers' Alliance, point out that, since 1979, transportation spending adjusted for inflation has not increased, while spending on education, social welfare, corporate welfare and prisons has gone up considerably. Before playing economic Russian roulette by increasing taxes, as Mr. Warner wants to do, the General Assembly needs to take a careful look at areas where spending is going up. It should then start paring those programs to fund needed road projects.

"How can [the General Assembly] ask us for a tax increase on roads and highways when they spend money on everything but roads and highways?" Mr. Ferrara, president of the new state chapter of the Club for Growth, asked at an anti-tax increase rally on Tuesday. "What they are trying to do is turn this state into New York or Massachusetts."

If politicians especially tax-happy Republicans don't care enough about their taxpaying constituents to do this, they may also be playing Russian Roulette with their own political futures. Stephen Moore, president of the national Club for Growth, warns Republicans that, if Republicans vote for tax increases, including Mr. Warner's referendum scheme, they could find themselves "with a very well-financed primary opponent." In the end, that may be the only way to drive this message home to some of the renegade Republicans.

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