Patrick McSweeney


The VEA Shows its Hand

The teachers union wants it all: $1.5 million per biennium from tax hikes plus the $1 billion a year Gov. Warner claims he can save through greater government efficiency. 


The Virginia Education Association was obviously animated by my commentary last month criticizing two members of the Virginia House of Delegates for supporting a huge state tax increase this year. The teachers’ union circulated talking points to encourage and guide responses to my column.


Had an elementary school student written these talking points, he or she would have been admonished for being non-responsive, but the VEA doesn’t operate under the usual standard. Its talking points made no effort to address the central point of my criticism.

The point of my column was that a tax increase this year could not be justified if the $1 billion in spending reductions Gov. Mark R. Warner has repeatedly claimed can be implemented are real. The two delegates, Chris Jones, R- Suffolk, and Preston Bryant, R-Lynchburg, never bothered to verify Warner’s claims. It’s time someone did.


As members of the House Appropriations Committee, Jones and Bryant were well aware of these claims.  Both voted for a House resolution asking the Governor to provide information about the spending cuts he had been claiming for more than a year to have identified. When Warner failed to respond after two months, these two delegates decided to organize a coalition of delegates to push a tax increase that will cost Virginians more than $1.5 billion over the next two years.


The overriding interest of the VEA is to increase state funding for public education, not to look out for the taxpayers or to worry about the health of Virginia’s economy. It has a right to pursue its agenda as aggressively as it chooses, but it shouldn’t mislead.


Increasing the efficiency of state government and spending $1 billion less each year as a result are consistent with the VEA’s objective. Warner insists he can do this without cutting services. One is prompted to ask why the VEA wasn’t pushing for immediate action on Warner’s proposed spending reductions. After all, the reduction in state spending achieved by the streamlining that Warner claims can be implemented could produce far more revenues than the $1.5 billion tax increase.


The math is too obvious to be missed, but the VEA’s tactic has been simply to ignore Warner's claim, hoping to get an immediate tax increase plus the additional revenues from spending cuts in the future. If taxes can be raised now by $1.5 billion a biennium and another $2 billion in revenues can be found later through streamlining, there would be an additional $3.5 billion – not a mere $1.5 billion – for state government to spend every two years.


The VEA may not have an obligation to watch out for the interests of Virginia taxpayers, but members of the General Assembly do. So does the Governor.


Taxpayers have a right to know whether Warner’s claim that $1 billion can be cut out of the budget each year is valid. The VEA and other proponents of the recent tax hike don’t want that question to be raised. Instead, they want the public to believe that, in the absence of that tax hike, vital governmental services would have to be cut.


The issue is not what services tax opponents would cut. We don’t need to cut any services if Warner’s efficiency claim is for real.


When will Warner be made to put up or shut up?


-- August 9, 2004























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