- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Neither Virginia Gov. Mark Warner nor Virginia Senate Leader John H. Chichester wants to “turn Virginia into California.” That statement is a reference to the suggestion that raising state taxes be put to a statewide referendum because stubborn state legislators can’t or won’t do their jobs.

For the hot and hopelessly gridlocked Old Dominion legislators, I offer this California New Age-style prayer: “For I now open my mind to possibilities I have not dreamed of, to forces of life I have not allowed in, and to realms of joy I have hardly imagined.”

The General Assembly extended its session by three days so budget battlers in the Republican-led Senate and the House could reach a compromise. Today is their deadline. The General Assembly had better come up with a reasonable budget — spreading the tax pain and gain evenly by the drop-dead date of June 30 because a government shutdown is totally unacceptable.

The conservative commonwealth’s legislature found the time to pass a duplicative measure reaffirming its opposition to same-sex “marriage,” but not to figure out how to pay the state’s basic bills. Now House Speaker William J. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican, wants to pass the buck to voters who are generally more emotional than educated about operating a multibillion-dollar government.

Earlier this month, Mr. Howell issued an ultimatum calling for a referendum or an impasse. His antitax advocates refuse to consider higher taxes because they are politically opposed to them. The Senate proposed tax increases even greater than the Democratic governor’s.

Why should Virginia voters decide while the politicians, who want to protect their jobs at all costs, comfortably run for cover? Referendums were not so great for Californians.

“Bawk, bawk, bawk, bawk,” sounds like Southern fried chicken. Or, as Mr. Warner said, that’s a clear “abdication of responsibility.” So he rightly threatened to veto the tax referendum that would be held in June.

We are not helped in our taxing and spending confusion by ideological politicians grandstanding with gestures and slogans. Waving “Trust the voters, Mark,” stickers and donning seersucker suits to signal their willingness to force the budget impasse through summer, is silly and nonproductive.

Mr. Warner is, as usual, standing in the middle of the muddle. He must come off the chicken-wire fence, too, and be more informative and forceful with legislators and taxpayers. He must explain why tax increases are necessary for which critical state services.

U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, warned that Virginia could lose its federal cash cow, the huge Norfolk Naval Base, if state finances are further weakened. He was joined by conservative former U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd Jr. All are concerned about the state’s formerly stellar bond rating slowly slipping downward.

Adding to the confusion, former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who was appointed by Mr. Warner to head a tax reform commission, came out against the Senate tax proposals.

Joining the antitax chorus are the Republican voices of former governors George Allen, now a senator, and James S. Gilmore III. Both should remain silent, given that they contributed to the current state deficit — Mr. Allen through the most costly prison buildup in history, Mr. Gilmore to the costly car-tax repeal.

Are John and Jane Q. Public supposed to read the Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness tax reform report? Can ordinary taxpayers miraculously gather more inside budget data than these learned gentlemen who’ve had the benefit of experience and inside expertise?

Mr. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican, said, “We were elected to discharge the obligations before us.” I heard that. “To put it off on someone else to do our work for us is probably not in the best interest of the citizens of the commonwealth.” You’ve got that right.

Who votes to raise their own taxes? Look what happened with the transportation-tax referendum. Dead on arrival. Everybody wants more roads to alleviate gridlock, but no one wants to pay for them.

The problem with most Americans is we truly believe we can have it all, all the time. We don’t want to make choices. Too many try to live a California-caviar-and-champagne lifestyle on a Virginia ham-sandwich-and-beer budget.

Mr. Howell says the intelligence of Virginia voters should not be underestimated. No, we’re not so stupid that we can’t see that the gridlocked legislators we hired to represent us now want us to do their jobs.

Mr. Howell said, “Virginians are eager to have their say,” in this budget bust. Yes, with letters, e-mail and phone calls to our representatives. And, we can vote to get rid of those who don’t respond accordingly.

Referendums are reactionary. They are the lazy way for representatives and citizens to govern.

It is the citizens’ job to make informed choices about who best will represent their political and practical philosophies before, not after, elections.

It’s those representatives’ duty to do their homework, get some backbone and make the difficult decisions.

After all, they asked for the job. So just “open my mind to possibilities I have not dreamed of,” and do your duty.

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