- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

In just the latest sign that a growing number of Virginia lawmakers who voted for last year’s $1.38 billion tax-increase package are having second thoughts, the House of Delegates voted 73-21 on Monday for a bill that would end the freeze on car-tax relief and would eliminate the tax in seven years.

Under the House bill, starting in 2007, taxpayers will receive an additional 5 percent of car-tax relief per year, until the levy finally expires in 2012. Nine of the 17 Republican delegates who voted for last year’s tax-increase package voted in favor of car-tax relief on Monday.

Unfortunately, aside from the delegates who have changed their minds, all of last year’s obstacles to car-tax relief remain in place. Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has reacted scornfully to the idea, suggesting that it constitutes election-year posturing and would jeopardize the state’s credit rating. In an example of Orwellian nonsense, Mr. Warner derided car-tax relief as “an entitlement” — as if letting people keep more of their own money is the equivalent of handing them a welfare check.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, the politician who has become the state’s most fervent supporter of higher taxes and a bigger state government, remains hostile to the idea. Last year, Mr. Chichester said he would go along with the idea if the House agreed to an income-tax increase. The House very wisely said no. More recently Mr. Chichester has derided the idea, asserting that the House proposal is meant only for campaign brochures — a disdainful reference to the political reality that all 100 House seats are up for re-election in November.

But the most contemptuous reaction of all comes from House Democratic leader Franklin Hall, who on Monday demonstrated why his party, which dominated the House as recently as a decade ago, now holds just 38 seats in that 100-member body. Mr. Hall urged his fellow Democrats to vote for car-tax relief, which he dismissed as “demagoguery,” because the Senate would kill the bill anyway.

But of course, the primary rationale for last year’s tax-increase bill — that it was necessary to balance the budget and maintain the Old Dominion’s credit rating — vanished last spring. As readers will recall, within weeks of the legislature’s passage of the tax-increase bill, new revenue projections showed that the gloom-and-doom scenarios forecast by Messrs. Warner and Chichester were fantasy; revenues are projected to be more than $1 billion higher than expected this year.

Messrs. Chichester and Warner will probably manage to block tax relief during this year’s session, which has less than three weeks remaining. Should Jerry Kilgore — a Republican with a world view that is very different from that of Messrs. Warner and Chichester — be elected in November, the next few weeks may be the high taxers’ final hurrah.

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