- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

In the Old Dominion, politicians from both parties have already agreed to delay a rollback in the car tax, and a bipartisan coalition of Northern Virginia lawmakers is intent on winning permission to allow voters to decide whether to raise the sales tax. Last year, these sales-tax initiatives failed to win General Assembly approval because members couldn't agree on whether to authorize a referendum for transportation only, or to include education as well. But taxpayers may not be so lucky this time.

Local lawmakers like House Education Committee Chairman James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, and Sen. Charles Colgan, Manassas Democrat, for example, have been pushing for a referendum on a sales tax increase for education, and Northern Virginia lawmakers like House Transportation Committee Chairman Jack Rollison, Prince William Republican, want the same for transportation. Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Warner has expressed support for a statewide referendum to increase taxes for education and a regional referendum in Northern Virginia to increase taxes for transportation. On the other hand, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent Callahan, Fairfax Republican, warns darkly that downstate legislators will have to be brought on board, and that that mission will be made more difficult by the fact that 19 of the 22 are, like Mr. Callahan, Republicans and even worse were elected on "no new taxes" platforms.

This newspaper has long supported the notion that local voters should be able to vote on a wide array of ballot initiatives without having to go hat in hand to Richmond to beg for the right to do so. That said, it would be the height of folly to increase taxes instead of reordering priorities in the state budget. Economist Peter Ferrara, a member of the Northern Virginia Coalition to Stop Sales Taxes, points out that, since 1979, per-capita state transportation spending adjusted for inflation has not increased. During that time, inflation-adjusted per student spending on education has doubled (with much of it going to pay for a bloated administrative bureaucracy), real per-capita spending on welfare has increased by close to two-thirds, and spending went up for "economic development" (i.e., corporate welfare) as well. "The current FY 2002 state government budget stands at about $23.6 billion. But, if state spending overall had increased since 1979 at the rate of growth of population plus inflation, the budget would be $8.8 billion less," Mr. Ferrara writes. "About three-fourths of that increase went to welfare, education and prisons. But none went to transportation."

This is the deliberate result of state policy, which bars the use of income tax money for roads. Clearly, instead of raising taxes, the General Assembly needs to begin using these funds for transportation.

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