Monday, January 30, 2006

RICHMOND — A grass-roots government reform group today will begin airing radio ads urging Virginians to protest transportation tax increases proposed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the state Senate.

Leaders of Americans for Prosperity-Virginia (AFP) said yesterday that a campaign opposing higher taxes would have prevented the $1.38 billion tax increase passed by the legislature in 2004.

“In the next few weeks, there will be a grass-roots groundswell against this tax increase, and it will hopefully be defeated,” said Rob Whitney, director of AFP-Virginia. “There was no organization in 2004 that was out there taking on the tax increase proposal and showing people that there are other alternatives.”

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has proposed a host of fee and tax increases that would raise $3.7 billion over four years. The Republican-controlled Senate offered a plan that would raise more than $4 billion by increasing fees and levies, including the gasoline tax.

A House of Delegates proposal that would create some money for roads without raising taxes is expected to be announced this week.

The 60-second spot, titled “Again,” will run during talk-radio broadcasts on about a dozen stations in all markets except in costly Northern Virginia.

“Virginia lawmakers want to raise your taxes — again,” an announcer says in the ad. “Do you want higher taxes when Virginia is enjoying a billion-dollar surplus?”

Mr. Whitney said the group has a $75,000 budget to keep the ads on the air. The group’s budget is funded by some of its 7,500 statewide members.

Paul C. Harris, a former state delegate who serves as chairman of AFP-Virginia, appears in the ad. He noted that when he was in office in the late 1990s, the state budget was $35 billion, and that it has more than doubled since. The proposed 2006-07 budget is $72 billion.

“Government spending and taxation is out of control,” the Albemarle Republican said.

The growth is mostly because of increases in commitments that government cannot control, such as student enrollment, prison populations and Medicaid caseloads, said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine.

Mr. Hall called the Kaine transportation plan “modest,” saying it would amount to an $18-per-year auto insurance premium increase for the average driver and would bring the 3 percent sales tax for buying a car in line with the 5 percent sales tax on other retail items.

“Those are not Draconian increases by any means for a transportation network that hasn’t had serious attention in two decades,” he said. “Those who benefit from the [transportation] improvements are the same people who are paying for them.”

Mr. Whitney said public interest groups such as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Education Association campaigned aggressively in favor of the 2004 tax increase, which created significantly more money for education, health care and public safety.

The tax package, which also cut some taxes, remains popular with voters.

A September poll by Rasmussen Reports showed that 46 percent of voters support the package.

Mr. Whitney attributes the approval rating to the lack of a countercampaign that appealed to everyday Virginians.

“Our goal is to get people involved in any way, shape or form in the tax dialogue and in fighting the tax increase,” he said.

Richmond-based AFP also is collecting signatures on the group’s “No Tax Hike” petition, which members plan to present to Mr. Kaine.

Delegate Chris B. Saxman, chairman of the legislative Cost Cutting Caucus, who appeared at the AFP announcement, said there are “hundreds of millions of dollars” that can be found for transportation by cutting government spending.

The Staunton Republican said it’s a good thing that all legislators are focused on transportation and predicted that “cooler heads will prevail in the end.”

Meanwhile, the House yesterday voted 64-33 to approve a measure that would allow lawmakers to place an expiration date on future tax increases.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, which has rejected similar measures.

Steven J. Kantor, the state’s financial analyst who serves as the liaison between Virginia and Wall Street, thinks the measure would threaten state and local bond ratings if it became law.

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