- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

It has gone largely unnoticed by the local media, but anti-tax forces won an important, surprising victory in Virginia late last month, when Republicans in the state Senate agreed not to continue their efforts to ram a tax increase through the Virginia General Assembly for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Since January, the Republican-majority state Senate had been working in tandem with Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine to force the House of Delegates to agree to higher taxes for transportation. The Senate’s decision to yield on taxes represents a stunning victory (albeit one that could prove temporary) for House Speaker William Howell and a defeat for Mr. Kaine and senators led by Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, the General Assembly’s most fervent supporter of tax increases.

In the spring of 2004, Mr. Howell was unable to prevent 17 Republican delegates from joining with the overwhelming majority of Democrats in passing a tax increase pushed by Gov. Mark Warner. Adding insult to injury, within weeks of the House vote, the Warner administration released new economic data showing that — contrary to its assertions that tax increases were necessary to prevent massive deficits — the state actually was running a surplus. The belief that Mr. Warner doublecrossed them about Virginia’s fiscal situation has thus far made moderate House Republicans unwilling to repeat the mistake of 2004 and support higher taxes.

Unfortunately, however, the 2004 debacle was only the beginning of the state GOP’s problems when it came to dealing with taxes. When Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore endorsed the idea of permitting local jurisdictions to hold referenda on increasing taxes to pay for roads, it triggered a wave of discord between Mr. Kilgore and tax-increase opponents who should have been the attorney general’s strongest backers, helping to weaken his political position and ensure Mr. Kaine’s election last year.

The House’s ability to stand firm on principle this year is a welcome development, but high-tax advocates are not taking defeat well, and they have no intention of yielding on a bedrock issue that unites country-club Republicans and the liberal-left: increasing taxes. The Washington Post’s editorial page — quoting Mr. Chichester, who characterized the Senate move as a tactical retreat, rather than a capitulation on taxes — huffed that the voters would take revenge on the backward-thinking ones in the House: “Virginia voters will be in no mood to forgive the Republican ideologues in the House who are starving the state’s most economically dynamic regions of their lifeblood — decent roads and free-flowing traffic.”

We congratulate the House Republicans on their victory, but it is only one skirmish in a very long war.

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