- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Gov. Mark Warner can’t seem to discuss Virginia’s critical challenges — such as ensuring the state’s continued ability to balance its budget while maintaining a quality system of higher education — without finding some dubious pretext to complain about the fact that his predecessor, Gov. Jim Gilmore, cut taxes. Appearing on WTOP radio earlier this week, Mr. Warner was asked about reports that budget cuts affecting Virginia public colleges and universities will result in tuition increases this year and next at some schools. During the course of his reply, Mr. Warner suggested that reductions in the car tax were partly to blame for the tuition increases. It is misleading to suggest that the reduction of the car tax approved by the General Assembly in 1998 at Mr. Gilmore’s urging has starved higher education of needed funds. Since the tax cut took effect that year, it has saved Virginians approximately $2.3 billion in taxes, less than 3 percent of total state spending. From 1998-2002, Virginia rose from 38th to 27th place in higher education spending among the states. In 1998, the state appropriated $6.78 per $1,000 of personal income for higher education; by last year, the amount had risen to $7.62 — almost reaching the national average of $7.67. (By way of comparison, Maryland came in 35th, at $7.27.) While the car tax cut has been small in comparison with total state revenue, the savings have been quite significant to taxpayers. Statewide, Virginians have saved an average of $852 per household due to the tax cut. The savings have been much higher in Northern Virginia. For example, in Loudoun, Fauquier and Fairfax counties, taxpayers received $1,500 per household in car-tax relief during this period. During his campaign for governor, Mr. Warner promised not to raise taxes — even as he was pushing for a local referendum in Northern Virginia for the purpose of increasing them to pay for transportation projects. Since becoming governor 15 months ago, Mr. Warner has taken the gloves off and begun waging what can only be described as a Permanent Campaign for Higher Taxes — including two regional referendums (one in Northern Virginia and the other in the Hampton Roads area ) on increasing the sales tax for transportation. Last November, voters decisively rejected both measures — by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin in Northern Virginia and a whopping 62 percent to 38 percent in Tidewater. While voters rightly defeated Mr. Warner’s transportation tax increases, they also enacted one solid referendum endorsed by this newspaper — a bond measure for Virginia public colleges and universities. If Mr. Warner is serious about maintaining the quality of postsecondary education in Virginia, he should carefully explain why, in certain circumstances, a greater investment is needed. Virginians have made it clear that they are quite willing to support higher education when officials make a persuasive case.



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