- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

RICHMOND Virginians who want to pay more taxes soon will be able to contribute as much as they want and get their names posted on the Department of Taxation Web site, to boot.
"It's the greatest thing since sliced bread," said Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, the sponsor of a bill that would expand with better promotion and more incentives an existing program that allows Virginians to make voluntary tax contributions.
The bill, Mr. Cox said, is not frivolous legislation: Officials expect that the proposal could add $50,000 a year to the state treasury.
Mr. Cox's proposal has cleared the House and is expected to come up soon in the Senate Finance Committee. The Colonial Heights Republican expects easy passage of the measure because, he says, there is no reason legislators would want to deny constituents the chance to fund favored programs.
With the state facing a $3.8 billion shortfall through 2004, Mr. Cox said the legislation comes at a perfect time, because many of the budget cuts made by the House of Delegates and the Senate are for programs that have some of the most vocal advocates with the deepest wallets.
Three years ago, the General Assembly passed a law allowing taxpayers to send donations directly to the state, but a single, $2,000 gift has been made in that time. That's too low, Mr. Cox said, especially when groups are crying out about the loss of state funding for their programs.
Mr. Cox's proposal has met with some skepticism: One government report estimated that it would cost the state $100,000, including the cost of printing new tax forms, to set up the program.
Mr. Cox said there is no need for new forms. People who want to pay more will be encouraged to mail in the extra payments.
"I have heard the word 'courage,' courage to step up to the plate. I tell them I agree with them, I do not have the courage, but I think they do, and this bill's for them," Mr. Cox said.
Mr. Cox said he is opposed to any tax increase in the state, but his bill would let those who feel otherwise put their money where their mouths are. And those who give would be rewarded in cyberspace by having their names posted on the tax department's Web site.
"We can then look publicly and see who thinks they aren't taxed enough. Who stepped up to the plate," Mr. Cox said.
One other state Arkansas has a similar law.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, proposed the Tax Me More Fund in November after hearing complaints about the state pruning its budget by cutting social programs when it faced tough fiscal times.
Like Mr. Cox's measure, the Arkansas fund was created in response to legislators and others who said tax increases were the answer to solving the state's economic woes.
Some Virginia lawmakers have suggested that raising the state's 4.5 cent sales tax to 5.5 cents is the answer to funding education and transportation needs.
"There's nothing in the law that prohibits those who believe they aren't paying enough in taxes from writing a check to the state of Arkansas," Mr. Huckabee said in a statement announcing his plan. "Maybe this will make them feel better."
The Arkansas plan also lists the names of donors, but there has not been much response. Through the end of December, $276 had been raised.
Critics dismiss Mr. Cox's bill as political grandstanding and say budget issues should be taken seriously.
"I don't think it even rises to the level of a comedic gesture," said Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat. "Why give it to the general fund when you are better off just giving it to an institution?"
Mr. Petersen said he would recommend to his Northern Virginia constituents that they not send anything to the fund when their schools and road programs receive only about 20 percent to 30 percent of the income and sales taxes they already send to Richmond.
Delegate John A. Rollison III, Prince William Republican, said Mr. Cox's bill is another "brochure bill," a piece of legislation meant to be used during an election campaign.

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