- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Harvey Early, sales manager of the Galax Auto Exchange in Galax, Va., near the North Carolina border, says he doesn’t want Virginia lawmakers to make cuts in education or transportation programs to reach a compromise on a budget.

But beyond that, he’s game.

“I’m sure they could trim somewhere without raising taxes,” Mr. Early said in a telephone interview.

The Piedmont-area businessman was one of more than a dozen Virginians surveyed by The Washington Times on views about the General Assembly’s special session called by Gov. Mark Warner on Tuesday to resolve budget differences.

Residents statewide were asked whether legislators should raise taxes or cut spending, and only one endorsed a tax increase.

“They should cut the spending. They haven’t done enough in that area,” said Randy Stevens, owner of Riverside Tru-Value Hardware store in Danville in southern Virginia, about 100 miles east of Galax. He refused to elaborate, saying he was busy with customers.

Ken Colcombe, owner of the Tom’s Brook Truckwash in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, says he thinks that taxes are high enough in the state and that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) wastes a lot of money.

“It’s hard to buy a hamburger on any interstate without having to pay at least 10 percent in taxes” at the state and local levels, Mr. Colcombe said.

“When I look at VDOT, I see a lot of waste. … VDOT is the pork barrel for me,” he said.

Mr. Colcombe said he’s particularly unhappy with a costly plan to widen Interstate 81, from Winchester to Bristol, from four to eight lanes. “Eighty-one is only busy two days a week. Traveling on [Interstate] 95 and then on 81 is like going from hell to heaven,” he said, challenging the need for widening I-81.

Mr. Colcombe also questions some of VDOT’s priorities. He asked why chemicals are sprayed on weeds in the medians, while “potholes knock people’s wheels off.”

He acknowledges that he has personal animosity toward VDOT for a road-widening project last year near his business that “essentially shut me down for four months” because of the dust and equipment that accompanied the work.

In historic Kilmarnock, about an hour north of the Hampton Roads area on the Chesapeake Bay, a man who answered the phone at the Chamber of Commerce office said he was concerned about a plan to eliminate income tax deductions for Virginians nearing retirement age.

The man, who would not give his name or say whether he held a position with the chamber, said, “I’m 55, so I want to keep the deductions, which are $6,000 when a person reaches 62 and $12,000 at age 65.”

Even so, he recognizes that the deductions are costly, saying seniors make up 13 percent of Virginia’s population and that their numbers will continue to grow. “So we’re talking about a lot of money,” he said.

The man, who said he lives in a county neighboring Kilmarnock, also said, “Virginia has the lowest tax on cigarettes in the United States, but we’re going to let local governments increase the tax up to 60 cents a pack.”

Back in Tom’s Brook, Mr. Colcombe said he questions the wisdom of adding more taxes to cigarettes sold in Virginia. “Cartons and cartons of cigarettes go out of Virginia truck stops at this time and head north. We could tax ourselves out of business.”

Daphine Moore, who, with husband Lewis, runs Granny Bee’s, a restaurant in Appomattox, about 20 miles east of Lynchburg, said she would not want to see any tax increases, unless they are imposed on tobacco.

“We don’t need to raise taxes … but I’d like to see smoking cut out completely,” she said.

In Petersburg, just south of Richmond, Annetta Mason, a hairstylist at La Petite Beauty Salon, said, “I don’t think they should increase taxes. I’m a senior and can’t afford it.”

At the same time, she said, she doesn’t favor cuts in education and social service programs. “I don’t want them to cut programs for senior citizens and others who can’t take care of themselves.”

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