- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2004

A dozen or more Republican members of the Virginia House of Delegates are expected to capitulate to the pressure from Democratic Gov. Mark Warner and the Senate, and vote today for a two-year, $972 million package of sales and cigarette tax increases. Mr. Warner expects nearly all 37 Democratic delegates to support the tax increases and will likely need the votes of at least 15 of 61 House Republicans. It is no exaggeration to say that the House Republicans in Richmond will be casting one of the most important votes of their political careers.

Those who vote for the tax package will doubtless win the (temporary) favor of Mr. Warner, liberal-leaning big business types, and the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards. But, in doing so, these politicians will alienate many conservative- and libertarian-leaning voters, who have proven indispensable to the rise of the Virginia Republican Party over the past decade.

The tax-increase package is bad politics and bad public policy. The House Republican leadership supports an alternative tax package — one that increases spending by more than 11 percent over the next two years, but without increases in general sales or income taxes. But that was not enough to satisfy Mr. Warner and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, a Republican. While the package passed the Senate by a wide margin, today’s House vote is expected to be much closer.

Over the past few weeks, House Republicans have been subjected to a relentless campaign of political hardball aimed at persuading them to abandon the low-tax stance favored by Speaker Bill Howell. Business groups, like the state Chamber of Commerce, have been lobbying for tax increases, as have teachers unions and other public employee groups. A pro-Warner nonprofit group called the Foundation for Virginia is running radio spots praising Republicans who support higher taxes. Rep. Tom Davis is offering support for Republicans who jump ship and support tax increases.

But it is difficult to see what House Republicans will gain politically by carrying water for Mr. Warner, who cannot run again for governor, and Mr. Chichester, who, like a number of other prominent supporters of tax increases, is widely rumored to be considering retirement. Both the Club for Growth and Americans For Tax Reform have made clear that anti-tax forces will oppose Republicans who back Mr. Warner on raising taxes. Like Republican Jack Rollison of Prince William — the Transportation Committee chairman who lost his seat last year after supporting Mr. Warner’s ill-fated 2002 transportation tax increase — the Republicans who vote with Mr. Warner today may be ensuring themselves stiff competition for years to come.

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