Tough Question for Anti-Taxers

The Jaded JD

has a question for Virginia’s anti-tax faction, a group he identifies with Norm Leahy at One Man’s Trash and our own Phil Rodokanakis.

I think the multi-part question is fair and deserves a thoughtful answer. Hopefully, the principals will respond. The JD shortchanges the level of detail Norm has offered on many occasions as to how he’d balance reducing services along with cutting taxes in my opinion, but that’s a minor quibble.

The implication, whenever critics assail the anti-taxers, is that raising taxes is always the responsible thing to do. That bothers me. Few notice that alongside the new tax dollars going to fund Medicaid, transportation, and education, budgets for failing or underperforming agencies and programs continue to rise without question. I don’t see a lot of difference in the alleged bankruptcy of the tax cutters’ philosophy and the reflexive raise taxes philosophy.

The anti-taxers do have enough front men advocating the broad outlines of their beliefs. What they need are foot soldiers with eyeshades identifying and challenging the myriad of expenditures the supposed “cut to the bone” government countenances. A little research and some brave stands would go a long way to increasing the anti-taxers’ credibility.


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  1. Those bloated state agency budgets certainly didn’t help state employees, who saw their benefits literally cut to shreds over the past few years…

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Benefit cuts to state employees–actually mostly increases in insurance premiums–mirror increases in the private sector.

    That’s an example of a choice:

    1. Raise premiums
    2. Cut something so as to not raise premiums
    3. Raise taxes to cover premium increases
    4. Raise taxes to pay for other stuff and raise premiums

    The state budget is one big pie, full of choices like that. Not every nice to do thing–like pay more of an employee’s premium–is worthy of a tax hike. I say that as a state employee.

  3. I know – I was just pointing that out because you were talking about a glut of funding for state agencies…if that’s true, then there should be outrage that employee benefits have not been restored to their previous levels in the late 90s…

  4. The Jaded JD Avatar
    The Jaded JD

    I should clarify here that I don’t have a “raise taxes” mentality. I have a “justify to me your proposed change in the status quo” (what one used to call in the good old days a “conservative” mentality, back when “conservative” meant “pro-status quo”). This puts the burden on tax raisers and tax cutters to specify not only where they plan to get the money (whether it be from the people in the case of tax raisers or from the state budget in the case of tax cutters) and how they plan to use it.

  5. Good luck with your quest, Jaded.

    I know there are some pro-growth guys out there who promote taxes because deep in their heart they believe that they’ll stimulate the economy, help everyone, and make the pie higher, as Bush said. Steven Moore is one of those guys. A genuinely good guy.

    And there are some guys who just hate the government and want all but it’s most core features driven into oblivion. I’m not sure where their grudge against the government came from, but it might be the aliens that are broadcasting into their heads.

    But for most anti-taxers, it’s a populist thing. It helps them get elected, so they run on it. Enough said.

    “So what?” you say. “That’s democracy! If it’s popular amongst the masses, then it must serve the best interests of the community.”

    To those people I say this: Years ago, when government programs were much more popular, Democrats ran on a platform of increasing government year after year after year. People loved it, because it delivered them benefits (cash payments, programs, etc.). But that didn’t mean it was wise.

    We need to guard against gimmicks and “easy” solutions (hmmm…like the car tax elimination maybe?)…that’s why I’m largely opposed to referendums…this is technically a Republic, not a Democracy. It was never meant to be mob rule. If I wasn’t lazy, I’d find about 100 quotes from founding fathers to back this up.

  6. The key, of course, is to cut the RIGHT taxes (taxes that actually effect the economy or put an unfair burden on certain groups), restructure the tax system to make it simpler, look for more government efficiency (with the knowledge in in the back of your head that government waste doesn’t really make up much of our budget…you won’t find money for a new program by cutting back a few dollars here and there) but always leave a little left over for a rainy day. If you create a new government program, make sure it contains incentives that promote self-dependence, hard work, and MOVING OFF THE THE PROGRAM (if applicable).

    The time to increase taxes is when you have glaring needs in CORE SERVICES. Right now Virginia has glaring needs in transportation and higher education (I know, I know, some would argue that we can plan our way out of the transportation crisis, but you can’t honestly say that there aren’t roads in inner suburbs that need to be widened and won’t because maintenance will eat up the entire transportation budget soon). That’s the platform of the DLC-types, if you ask me.

    Oh and hey, on that note – can we discuss that? Maintenance funding is going to eat up the entire trust fund by the middle of the next decade. What will the anti-taxers have us do about that?

    what about the 38k new students demanding VA public universities?

    What about healthcare costs? Can anyone see any conceivable reason why these wouldn’t continue to go up?

    The list goes on and on. And yet, some look at our state budget and scream: “SLASH TAXES!”

    It’s as if they just want to get elected…

  7. Salt Lick Avatar
    Salt Lick

    To my mind, the presumption that the government already has enough money parallels the presumption of innocence in a criminal trial. In both cases, the burden of proof lies with those who want to use government power to take something from an individual, whether it’s money (taxes) or freedom (jail).

    There is simply no way even a relatively well-informed citizen like myself can know for certain that his legislators are appropriating too little or too much money. We have to go on broad principle. Experience has taught me government will take as much in taxes as we allow. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but right now, for instance, Virginia government agencies are approaching the end of their fiscal year. Who among us does not know that state managers everywhere are making damn sure to spend ALL the money in their accounts, whether they need to or not? And what government manager worth their salt (ahem) does not try to expand their agency or project?

    A tale about taxes —
    I knew a fellow who was appointed by his industry to meet with President Reagan and explain the industry’s need for government aid. This fellow was a big Reagan supporter, extremely conservative — Al Gore would say he was from the “extra chromosome right wing.” So the fellow goes to the White House and meets Reagan and his advisors. He relates a tale of woe, even shows pictures depicting the industry’s slump. He pleads for government help.

    Reagan listens, looks at the pictures, then says “You know, I once attended a bar-b-que thrown by all the high-rollers in your industry. Everybody arrived in a Mercedes and everybody there could buy each other out.” Then Reagan looks at his staff, smiles, they laugh, and that’s the meeting. They get up and leave.

    To this day, the fellow appointed as his industry’s representative does not like Reagan. That meeting taught me two things. 1) Ron Reagan really meant it when he said he was against big government. 2)Everybody opposes unnecessary government spending, but their own projects are always necessary.

    I’m not opposed to paying taxes for the public good. I’m just want proof we really need to raise them. Did I read the other day that $3 million dollars of state funds are earmarked to build an ART MUSEUM in Roanoke? If so, I bet its landscape will bear tulips I can’t afford for my own home.

  8. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Ahhh, the legend of Reagan continues.

  9. Shaun Kenney Avatar
    Shaun Kenney

    Looking around and seeing no one else took the challenge, I gave my own answer here:

    Response to Jaded JD

    Hope this adds something to the conversation.

    Regards,

  10. El Equipo Progresivo Avatar
    El Equipo Progresivo

    Ray Hyde has already helped with this but I’d like to ask those of you posting on this issue to please let me know your age/year of birth.

    I’m doing a study of opinions as compared to age and your help on this would be greatly appreciated1

    Thank you!

  11. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    Shaun:

    Thanks for taking a crack at it. You make a good point that the size of the state budget has increased quite a bit over the last 10 years. Some but not all of that increase can be traced to the car tax expenditure, medicaid and CHIP costs, and a booming NOVA economy.

    So where else is it coming from?

    I’m going to look at the state budget website tomorrow and report back to you on my blog with tables that show where the money has gone.

    Virginia Centrist

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    OK, I read Jaded JD’s question as a kind of general assault on what I call the balkanization of ideas. Everybody’s party seems to have become a one issue event. Anti- taxers aren’t content until the budget is zero, anti abortion folks won’t be satisfied until every ill-conceived child is either loved or abandoned, conservationists won’t be satisfied until every junk tree and poisonous microbe is sacrosanct, property rights advocates think they should be able to put a hazardous waste dump next to a school, the balanced community crowd wants stasis, and everbody thinks their answer is the total solution to sweetness and light.

    If we are paying 9.7 percent of goss commerce in taxes and commerce is continually rising, then why can’t the state keep up?
    For one thing, we don’t tax services, for another, the state is routinely involved in services the private sector can’t provide for a profit, things like health care that have no apparent ceiling this side of death and heaven.

    JD’s article pointed at the problem: private schools are charging 12 to 15 thousand and Henrico schools still thinks they can do it for $8500. They are wrong.

    Same goes for the road maintenance budget. We can’t paint the lines adequately, but we can plant flower beds? I love the flower beds, I’m willing to pay for them, but I’d still like paint on the broken up crumbling pavement.

    But in claiming the average tax payment is less than the cost of one student, JD overlooks those of us who pay taxes without children. Overall, we should each be able to pay a little less than the value received by the beneficiaries. The economies of scale ought to come into play unless government is grossly inefficient…..

    I believe one of the greatest sources of government inefficiency is the friction caused by the balkanization of ideas.

    Paul and Wlll are on the right track I think. There is only so much money in the pie, let’s divvy it up so it does the most good. how do we dicide what that is? We need metrics, or else one cuts the pie, and the other gets first choice at the pieces.

    How much do we spend on alternate transportation, or special ed, knowing the size of the pie?

  13. Shaun Kenney Avatar
    Shaun Kenney

    VC,

    I’d honestly like to see a worthwhile answer absent of rhetoric of ideology. I’ve looked over House Document 19 plenty of times, and all I see is one long excuse for raising taxes; not a serious look at how to restrain spending.

    Looking forward to what you have to add here.

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Well said, Shaun, The Jaded JD is laboring under a false premise: that the anti-tax forces have no positive strategies for cutting spending. You rightly point out in your longer post to the efforts of the Thomas Jefferson Institute (three of whose members contribute columns to Bacon’s Rebellion’s op-ed e-zine). Although I would not characterize Ed Risse as in the anti-tax camp, his writings (also in Bacon’s Rebellion) describe in detail how reforming our dysfunctional patterns of land use could lower the cost not only of providing transportation mobility and access but in providing other local government services. And, indeed, I humbly submit myself as an anti-taxer who has systematically explored all of these themes. Virginia can save billions of dollars through process improvements in government administration and re-thinking our patterns of land use. The savings don’t have to come from cutting spending on education or shredding the social safety net. Furthermore, I have systematically explored strategies for economic development on the grounds that a growing economy generates tax revenues, too.

    The Jaded JD is free to find fault in our prescriptions. But he is quite wrong to characterize the anti-tax movement as some band of ideologically blinded fanatics who want nothing more than to wreak destruction on state governance.

  15. The Jaded JD Avatar
    The Jaded JD

    Mr. Bacon,

    I’m not laboring under misapprehensions about anti-taxers. They may have very detailed plans on how to reduce state spending, thereby “generating” refundable revenues. In fact, I’m all for finding efficiencies in government, so that the money appropriated to services is actually used to benefit the recipients, rather than being consumed by the service delivery mechanism.

    My complaint is that there are ideologically blinded fanatics in the anti-tax camp, and that too often we’re told nothing more than “taxes are bad” without being told where the reductions in state spending will be made. That is the point of the question–tell me where you (as an anti-taxer) will cut spending, and tell me how big the budget ideally would be, if you (as an anti-taxer) could have your way in it.

    Mr. Kenney the Elder has done a commendable job coming forward with some ideas on his comment on my thread. I’m getting ready to wander over to Mr. Leahy’s site to see if he’s done the same on the thread there.

  16. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Jim, I haven’t waded through all of EMR’s work, but I can’t recall a single instance where he has given a workable suggestion in detail as to how to transform a single aspect of what he calls dysfunction and most of the world calls the best society ever invented. The one suggestion I do recall is absconding with all the profits from the advertising and entertainment industries to fund our schools. If that is a concrete suggestion in detail, then heaven help us.

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