- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

Both the Maryland and Virginia legislatures began their 2007 sessions last week, and it’s fair to say that a combination of national and state trends are making Annapolis and Richmond less and less hospitable to advocates of limited government and lower taxes.

In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine believes he has found a winning political formula with the issue of financing transportation improvements, and at least in the short term, he may be correct. General Assembly Republicans, who control both houses, remain deeply divided over increasing taxes. (Senate Republicans overwhelmingly in favor and House Republicans opposed). For their part, Democrats overwhelmingly support tax increases, joining Mr. Kaine in vowing to try to unseat Republican lawmakers who refuse to support higher taxes.

As the General Assembly began its session, some Republicans — with the backing of Attorney General Robert McDonnell, House Speaker William Howell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester — have been meeting to discuss a transportation “compromise” that could include tax increases. “It’s vitally important that the issue of transportation be addressed this session,” Mr. McDonnell, who is hosting the talks, told The Washington Post. “I know there are people of goodwill in both houses that understand that. In an election year, you don’t get points for trying. You get points for results.”

Republicans have been down this road before — trying to avoid taking a principled stance against higher taxes — with abysmal results. In 2004, Democratic Gov. Mark Warner and the Senate pushed through a tax increase after persuading a minority of House Republicans to sign on. Mr. Warner got his tax increase through the legislature, and days later, Virginians learned that an economic boom created a surplus that made the tax increase unnecessary after all. In 2005, Republicans lost seats in the General Assembly, while Republican Bill Bolling won election as lieutenant governor. Republicans would be flirting with political oblivion if they go down this road again.

Republicans also need to defend private property rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case. In Virginia, a succession of court rulings and ill-considered actions by legislature have eroded these rights to the point that it has become relatively easy to condemn people’s property for private, commercial gain. Republican Sen. Ken Cuccinelli and Democratic Delegate Johnny Joannou last year introduced legislation to change this, but it was buried in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee — something that could happen again this year.

Unlike Virginia, which remains a politically competitive Southern state, Maryland has become a one-party Democratic state with a political culture resembling Massachusetts. Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who leaves office this week, made a powerful case against what liberalism has done to the state. Voters saw it differently, tossing Mr. Ehrlich out of office and the Democrats more seats in the General Assembly. Don’t be fooled, though, with Senate President Mike Miller saying there will be no tax increases amid the considerable talk in Annapolis about “structural” budget deficits, as well as promises to pour more taxpayer money into the public schools, health care, etc. What Democrats can’t fund through higher taxes, you can bet they will try to extract through new regulatory mandates.

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