- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

Seems that politics in Richmond just aren't that much fun these days, given that the recession has left Gov. Mark Warner and folks in the legislature less money to play with than previously expected. So, aside from pushing for referenda to increase sales taxes for education and new roads, Mr. Warner and other disgruntled politicians are trying to shift blame for the current fiscal mess to his predecessor, Jim Gilmore. The reality, however, is far different.
By hanging tough on repealing the car tax, for example, Mr. Gilmore forced many people in Richmond to do something they intensely dislike: think seriously about downsizing a bloated state government and reordering priorities. Mr. Warner initially seemed ready to do precisely that. When he presented his budget to the General Assembly in Richmond last month, for example, he delivered a sobering message on the need for fiscal restraint and prudently declined to commit himself to a pork-laden bond package for state parks and college construction being pushed by prominent Republicans like Sen. John Chichester. In recent weeks, however, Mr. Warner and his allies have moved in a very different direction, whining incessantly about how they are the victims of a budget "crisis" that Mr. Gilmore supposedly created. On Monday, Mr. Warner, joined by his close political ally, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, blasted a budgetary proposal put forward by Republicans in the House of Delegates for failing to give more money to the public education blob. Mr. Warner also complained that the House proposal would eliminate his "economic development" (i.e., corporate welfare) fund.
But it should hardly come as a surprise that Mr. Warner seems so intent on blaming Mr. Gilmore for the state's fiscal woes while simultaneously closing off opportunities for sensible spending restraint. Unlike Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Warner's preferred solution for most of the state's problems seems to be increasing taxes every time he can. For example, Mr. Warner wants to delay the rollback of the hated car tax, which essentially is the same as increasing taxes, and, during the campaign, he left open the possibility of taxing Internet transactions. The governor can certainly count on plenty of support as he pushes for tax increases. Corporate statists like developer John T. "Til" Hazel and the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a group of close to 100 business executives, are enthusiastically pushing for increases in fuel and income taxes, and various loophole-closing schemes aimed at gouging higher taxes out of corporations.
But it is simply a sham to pretend that tax increases as opposed to less spending are necessary to pay for sorely needed transportation improvements, like those in the Washington suburbs that Mr. Warner now wants to delay. Statistics compiled by economist Peter Ferrara on behalf of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance and the Northern Virginia Coalition to Stop the Sales Tax show that, since 1979, per-capita spending on transportation has remained flat. Taking political cheap shots at Mr. Gilmore won't change this. Reordering spending priorities in Richmond will.

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