Be Careful What You Wish For

Judge John Dillon (look familiar to regular readers of this blog?)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For the participants on this blog who have longed for the lifting of the yoke of the Dillon Rule from the necks of local governments, major relief is in sight. However, you may not like the area in which it is being contemplated: taxation.

Generally, Virginia counties have less authority than cities and towns to levy certain taxes. Cities and towns have general authority in the Code to levy the following taxes: admissions, transient occupancy, cigarette, and meals. As far as counties are concerned, the General Assembly over the years has given individual counties, as specified in the statutes, authority to levy some of these taxes. In some cases, that authority carries limits and, in the case of the meals tax, it must be approved by local referendum to be effective.

As reported in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, legislation has been introduced in both houses of the General Assembly to provide counties the same taxing authority as cities and towns. Furthermore, it seems that these bills have widespread support. Particularly striking is HB 785, introduced  by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, chairman of the House Finance Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over tax bills. Co-patron of the bill is Del. Terry Kilgore, a senior Republican from Scott County. The bill would provide counties general authority to levy these taxes, without any caps or referendum requirement.

If any of these proposals are enacted and your county subsequently adopts a new tax or increases an existing one, you can’t blame those Democrats in Richmond; you need to blame your board of supervisors. And, of course, these measures would not eliminate the application of the Dillon Rule in the Commonwealth. What the General Assembly giveth, the General Assembly can take away.

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2 responses to “Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. Some issues are R vs D and some issues are Rural versus Urban. The debate over “equal” taxing power is both but has often been more the second, with representatives of larger urban counties in both parties eager to give them powers comparable to cities. And of course, not too far back, many Democrats were reluctant to raise taxes, too, especially from smaller counties. A third complication is that what local officials say in public, and in their campaigns, can be strangely different than what they say in private conversations with their legislators. There the line might be “save me from my angry constituents but let me blame you. Let me tell them I’d love to help them but the Assembly binds our hands.” The dance is endless.

    Years ago there was this proposed constitutional amendment to allow localities to grant lower tax rates to residential property, retaining the old higher tax rates on business property. Very popular with voters. Lots of local officials clamored for it – in public. Behind the scenes many helped us put it to sleep….

  2. Every state has some level of Dillon, it’s more a matter of how much latitude than complete freedom from State “control”.

    I LIKE the idea of referenda for taxes at the local level and will point out that most urban areas are more tax & spend than they are not. That does not mean they’re not fiscally conservative as many have AAA credit which you will no get if your fiscal policies are sloppy. Urban areas are also typically job centers – industry and workers have opportunities whereas in most rural areas – lower taxes do not attract industry which is looking for infrastructure and services as well as schools with a wide variety of programs and courses for kids on their way to college.

    low taxes do not result in economic prosperity. Cities with higher taxes usually easily outperform the rural.

    and just look at polls about paying higher taxes in urbanized areas:

    I realize Maryland is “infested” with leftists but the poll is none-the-less interesting.

    Pretty sure rural Virginia would not poll that way EVEN IF the GA allowed them to tax more… 😉

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