- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

In Virginia, it's becoming increasingly clear that some prominent politicians just didn't get the message sent by taxpayers who overwhelmingly rejected a pair of ballot measures to raise gasoline taxes to pay for transportation projects. In Northern Virginia, the tax increase lost by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, and a similar measure in the Hampton Roads area lost by an even more lopsided margin, 62 percent to 38 percent.

Within days of the election, some leading supporters of the referenda, among them Gov. Mark Warner and House Transportation Committee Chairman Jack Rollison, acknowledged that, given how strongly the voters had spoken out against increased taxes, that option is off the table. But that hasn't stopped some of their political brethren, Democrats and Republicans alike, from directly advocating higher taxes and/or promoting new spending programs that will inevitably create pressure for higher taxes.

An example of the latter is Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat. Disregarding what have become increasingly gloomy deficit forecasts, Mr. Kaine announced on Monday that the state is failing to spend the amount of money required to ensure an adequate public education as required by the state constitution.

Since that document doesn't specify dollar amounts, and Mr. Kaine didn't call for a specific dollar amount of new spending, taxpayers are left to guess how much additional money he wants. The only hint of what this would cost is buried inside a press release from Mr. Kaine's office, which cites a state commission's report asserting that the government schools are underfunded by $600 million a year. What taxes would have to be increased to pay for all of this new spending especially given the fact that the state is already looking at multibillion-dollar annual deficits for the forseeable future is not explained by Mr. Kaine. So, the skeptical voter can be forgiven for surmising that this is not a serious policy proposal, but rather a talking point for the benefit of state teachers unions, who supported his 2001 campaign for lieutenant governor and can be expected to support a Kaine bid for the governorship in 2005.

One Republican politician who clearly doesn't get the message is House Education Commiittee Chairman James Dillard, who announced that Northern Virginia legislators will ask for a 1 percent increase in the sales tax to pay for education. Although details of the Dillard initiative remain unclear, (such as whether it would passed by the legislature, or whether it would be done through statewide or local referenda), it provides yet another indication that the politicians are thinking of new ways to shellack taxpayers yet again.

While Sen. James "Jay" O'Brien, Fairfax Republican, had the good judgment to throw cold water on Mr. Dillard's proposal, some of his fellow Republicans, among them Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., chairman of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, and Sen. John Chichester, head of the Senate Finance Committee, have spoken openly of tax increases or dismissed the idea of tax relief.

Gov. Warner himself jumped back into the fray this week by playing the class-warfare card, denouncing Republican proposals to scrap the state's death tax as relief for a "few thousand of the wealthest Virginians."

In sum, with the General Assembly set to begin its new session next month, taxpayers have plenty of reason to be on their guard.

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