- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

Virginia taxpayers won a temporary reprieve Saturday afternoon, when House of Delegates Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. adjourned the House of Delegates without agreeing to a tax-increase referendum for education and transportation that had been approved by the state Senate. Mr. Wilkins' decision which followed reports that House Republicans were under mounting anti-tax pressure from constituents angered by soaring assessments in Northern Virginia was an embarrassing defeat for Gov. Mark Warner. Mr. Warner and Republican supporters like Fairfax Del. James H. Dillard II criticized Mr. Wilkins for preventing the House from agreeing to the Senate bill, and the governor is expected to push for tax increases for transportation when the General Assembly returns next month for a brief session to take up vetoed bills. But taxpayers owe Mr. Wilkins a huge debt of gratitude for his actions. Instead of increasing taxes to fund needed road improvements, it's time to reorder state spending priorities. Since 1979, per capita state transportation spending has remained flat, while things like welfare, "economic development" and education have seen considerable increases in funding. If the governor is serious about building sorely needed roads, he needs to get serious about downsizing government in other areas, instead of finding ways to blame his predecessor for the state's fiscal woes.
Take education, for example, another area where Mr. Warner wants tax hikes to alleviate "unmet needs." No reasonable person can say that public education is being ignored: Inflation-adjusted statewide per student spending for public education has nearly doubled, rising from $2,000 in 1979 to just under $4,000 today. In Fairfax County, where grassroots opposition to tax hikes has been particularly fervent, statistics compiled by the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance (FCTA) based on county budget documents show that from 1975-2001, real per-student spending there jumped from $4,677 to $9,354. But SAT scores have remained stagnant in recent years, and the new spending has done essentially nothing to remedy the black-white achievement gap in the county.
Sadly, innovative ideas like tuition tax credits and charter schools are virtually ignored in Virginia. The Heritage Foundation last year, for example, rated Virginia 44th out of 50 states in its Educational Freedom Index, which measures a state's willingness to give parents alternatives to the public school monopoly. The Center for Education Reform gives Virginia a "D" for its charter school law, which the center rates the "third weakest" of the 38 now in effect across the country.
In fact, a compelling case can be made that instead of the tax increase referendums being pushed by Mr. Warner and his political allies, what Virginia really needs are tax cuts. In an article which appears on the web site of the Northern Virginia Coalition to Stop The Sales Tax, economist Peter Ferrara documents how higher taxes consistently ruin state economies, retard economic growth and destroy jobs, ensuring that less money is available for schools and transportation. As an alternative, Mr. Ferrara urges reductions in Virginia's state capital gains and income taxes. This analysis is right on the mark. The challenge is persuading a high-tax ideologue like Mark Warner that this is the case.

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