Triumph of the Political Class: The Latest Evidence

In a Sunday piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael Hardy wrote an up-beat assessment of the choices awaiting Gov. Mark R. Warner when he writes his final budget this fall. Noting the extraordinary rise in revenues, Hardy noted, Warner “will have a big pile of new money to spend in his farewell budget.”

Let that sink in. A big new pile of money to spend.

Hardy went on: “[Warner] can recommend major spending on critical state services, such as public schools and Medicaid, and maintain car-tax relief at 70 percent.”

Nowhere in the story does Hardy explore the possibility of returning any of the money to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts. Among the sources he consulted for the story, apparently, that option is not even under consideration.

It’s quite clear: No political will exists to complete the car-tax phase out, now stuck at 70 percent, or to give money back to taxpayers through any other mechanism. The 2004 tax hikes are now set in stone. The pressure no longer exists to control state spending through restructuring or reform, and politicians’ wish lists know no bounds. General Fund spending will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And that doesn’t even include the prospect for a transportation-related tax hike in 2006.

The political culture of Virginia is transmogrifying into something new and hideous.


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  1. Salt Lick Avatar

    The political culture of Virginia is transmogrifying into something new and hideous…

    …which I’m not happy to say feeds my growing disillusionment and disgust with Republicans.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Salt Lick, I share your disillusionment. But don’t give up all hope. There are still some fiscal conservatives in the Virginia Republican Party. They just don’t get much publicity. Either they’re not very good at telling their story, or the press isn’t interested in telling it. Read Phil Hamilton’s column on reforming Medicaid (next post).

  3. Jim, are you saying that there are NO valid requirements for programs that might use some government money? Projects that have been postponed or put off in more strapped financial times?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Remember, Mr. Warner: It’s not your money to spend. It belongs to the taxpayers. If you want to spend some money, how about that $200 million in your own wallet?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, Of course, there are valid programs that require federal money. Nearly every category of state expenditure in Virginia has some validity. The question isn’t whether the programs should exist but what is the appropriate level of expenditure, considering that the money comes from citizens, who have needs of their own.

    Right now, the first instinct of Virginia’s Political Class is to raise taxes. It’s as if General Motors needed to increase profits and decided to raise prices without also thinking about cutting costs, designing better cars or doing all the other things that automakers must do. Here in Virginia, very little thought is given to doing anything differently. Need more money? Raise taxes. End of story. As I argue in my column this week, we cannot hope to stay competitive in a global economy with an attitude like that.

  6. common sense center Avatar
    common sense center

    Jim,
    While I appreciate your position, I feel that you are beholden to note that before the Warner-Kaine tax reform, their adminstration found $750 M/ year of cuts in state expenditures.

    Fiscal responsibility requires priorities, spending cuts, and also requires an intelligent approach to fulling funding the responsibilities that result.

    Warner and Kaine did precisely that. Things are going well in the commonwealth right now, but times may not always be so flush.

    If you don’t want to pay taxes, don’t send your kids to school, don’t use the roads, don’t hope for a cop or a fireman when you need one, and don’t ever expect to get a fair hearing from a legal system.

    When did the government become such a boogeyman to you? There are valid responsibilities for Government, and I for one am glad to see Government fulfilling it’s well-considered obligations.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Common Sense Center, Where did you get the idea that I’m against paying taxes? Taxes are a necessity of civilized society. What I’m against is the current surge in government spending and concommitant increase in tax burden that we’re witnessing now. I’m against tendency of politicians to raise taxes without even considering alternative strategies for accomplishing social goals.

    Yes, the Warner/Kaine administration did cut spending in certain areas back during the fiscal crisis. But the expsnse-cutting imperative has diminished significantly since then. You can pay all the taxes you want to, but if you want to raise my taxes, you’d demonstrate that you’re doing everything you can now — not three or four years ago — to make every tax dollar count.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Hopefully we can spend some more in the area of natural resource conservation. This is an area where what you pay for is what you get. It seems that we have a chance to leave a cleaner Virginia for the next generation than the last one left us. We should seize this opportunity and move forward aggressively on a number of conservation challenges not least of which is the cleanliness of our rivers, bays, and estuaries.

  9. Jim: who said anything about Federal money? I thought this was about state expenditures. To the extent that our current surplus is the result of increased economic activity, and not unwarranted tax increases, why shouldn’t the state spend that money? I’m pretty sure, just from looking around, that there are plenty of valid and needed projects that ought to happen.

    You concde that Warner Kaine cut taxes during the hard times, but then you casstigate them for trying to get some of that money back (and into the rainy day fund) when times are good.

    Therefore my argument has two points 1) if the money comes from a legitimate economic windfall, why shouldn’t the state enjoy an increase in income, too. 2) If the state cuts taxes in bad times, shouldn’t we expect them to raise taxes in good times, assuming all our NECESSARY state needs have not been met? Put another way, isn’t this evidence3 that the state is sensitive to the fact that citizens have needs of their own?

    Surely, when you take excess taxes out of peoples pockets, it affects the economy, I think most people would agree on that, at some level. So why is it that we can’t agree on what that level is? 25% of gross state revenue or, rather gross state domestic product is probably too high, 1% is probably too low. Anybody want to take an on-line poll and see if we can barter down to an agreed number?

    After we do that, then we can argue about spending priorities. We agree that taxes are necessary, so put a number on it: what % of taxes are necessary: then quit bellyaching.

    I hope anonymous is right, that we spend more in resource conservation, as opposed to simply passing laws that don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man that owns the trees. When we start spending cold hard cash for conservation, instead of thinking that we can get it for free, then that will be one step in putting our spending priorities in order.

    Fauquier county is a national leader in stealing the value of land from the citizens that own it, and this is done in the name of conservation, although some would claim the real reason is elitism. But when the county is faced with spending cold hard cash to upgrade the sewage treatment systems to meet new and higher requirements, they are already raising a stink (pun) and claiming the requirements are overblown for their small capacity. Apparently if yo are elitist, it doesn’t stink.

    But this is a real cost, imposed from the outside, and on a local level it is one example of why taxes must go up.

    By the way, Jim, no matter how low our taxes are, we can’t compete with foreign countries without a significant change in lifestyle, and one of those changes will probably be much lower levels of environmental protection.

  10. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The Conservative Republicans don’t have a clear message or designated messenger. When Warner-Dems-RINOs did their tax hike in 04, there was no counter plan other than ‘no’ in the HD. The threat of shut down absolutely panicked the House RINOs.

    No one stood up to the tripe – like post above about don’t send your kid to school etc – and said the increasing revenues ( 7% in Sep 03 and 11% by Jan 04 with NO increase in taxes) would pay for raises for teachers and other VA employees etc. etc.

    Until a Republican can play ‘name that tune’ with numbers – meaning he can say “I can run Virginia on $55b… or 50 or 60 or whatever the number is” and here is what we get… then the smoke and mirrors and chicken little rhetoric will suffice for political dialogue.

    We will have another Republican intramural contest in 07. Our first effort in 05 was 6 candidates against 15 seats. 2 won. Long way to go to bring the Party back to principles and better governance and away from incumbent protection and lust for power to tax and spend.

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