- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

No serious person could argue with the broad concept behind the bipartisan commission to modernize Virginia’s tax code, which held its inaugural meeting in Richmond this week before a standing-room audience of lobbyists and activists. Virginia’s antiquated system of taxation, much of which dates back nearly a century, should be transformed into something less punitive toward economic growth and enterprise. Unfortunately, based on the record and statements of Gov. Mark Warner and some prominent Republicans like Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester and House Education Committee Chairman James Dillard, it’s looking more and more like the panel will attempt to grease the skids for tax increases and make the system more redistributionist in character. Notably absent from the current debate is any talk about streamlining government or reducing the burden on Old Dominion taxpayers.

In a meeting at his official residence late last week, for example, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Warner “pleaded with commission members to set aside partisan concerns, urging them to consider new taxes on services and Internet sales, as well as possible rate and bracket adjustments to ease the burden on taxpayers in the $20,000 income range who pay the same top rate of 5.75 percent as those earning $100,000 or more.” And, The Post added, “several senior GOP advisers said lawmakers do not want to be perceived as obstructionist and may be willing to close some of the corporate and charitable loopholes that cost state government hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.” Just to make sure the Republicans (who hold a 2-1 majority in the legislature) do as they’re told, Mr. Warner has warned lawmakers that he may call a series of special sessions of the General Assembly if they fail to pass “tax reform” legislation acceptable to him when they convene in January.

Some prominent Republican lawmakers seem to be reading from Mr. Warner’s political playbook. Mr. Chichester questioned the concept of eliminating the car and estate taxes. Mr. Dillard complained that Virginia’s tax burden is one of the lowest among the 50 states and said he was “concerned about the image of the Republican Party … Many people are already saying that our philosophy is basically slash and burn, that we don’t care about state government.” He warned that, if Republicans “continue on the course that we’re presently on, then it’s going to come back and bite us.”

With all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates at stake in November, the Republican Party would be courting danger if it buys into Mr. Dillard’s alternative vision of reality. For one thing, his formulation ignores the crushing defeats that Mr. Warner’s sales-tax increase proposals suffered at the polls last November. Just a few weeks ago, House Transportation Committee Chairman Jack Rollison, Prince William County Republican and an outspoken supporter of the tax increase measures, was defeated by 16 points in the Republican primary.

Instead of looking for ways to increase taxes, Virginia Republicans should be offering reforms that would alter the way Richmond spends taxpayers’ money — and pushing Mr. Warner to do the same.

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