What’s All the Fuss About Taxes?

Margarett Edds, senior political writer for the Virginian-Pilot, can’t seem to understand the fuss about state and local taxes. In her column (requires registration) this morning, she writes:

Scan the political ads now clogging the airwaves, and you’d swear Virginians care about one thing: low taxes. Channel flipping during one segment of the nightly news last week, I caught barely a mention of education. The environment? Nary a word. Ditto for transportation and rising health care costs. But in the advertising run-up to Tuesday’s nominating primaries for statewide offices and the House of Delegates, the “T” word was everywhere.

… Good government means finding the right balance between taxes and services. It doesn’t take more than a half-hour before the television set to know that with the present crop of Virginia candidates, the emphasis is out of whack.

Imagine that. Virginians like keeping the money they earn. Selfish bastards. Where could such stinginess come from? Could it stem from the $1.4 billion in tax increases in the current biennial budget? Could it rise from the relentlessly rising property taxes that homeowners are paying across most of the Commonwealth? Could it reflect the fact that grandees from Senate Finance Chair John Chichester to Virginian-Pilot columnists are lecturing Virginians that they still aren’t paying enough taxes in a push for $1 billion-a-year (or more) tax increase for transportation funding in 2006?

Edds thinks there’s a problem when politicians “overemphasize low taxes.” I’d give her point of view a bit more credence if she occasionally wrote about strategies for taking the costs out of government — not cutting programs, but squeezing costs through process reforms, land use reforms, re-engineering, restructuring, whatever. But I don’t see much of that. It takes an effort to identify ways to cut spending and make programs run more efficiently. Any pea brain can raise taxes.

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  1. I can’t find much to disagree with in this post.

    To answer your question (and the question on many people’s minds): Why don’t Virginians care about last year’s tax increase? You’ve said it in various posts on here…Warner spread it out. Many people saw an income tax cut (raising the standard deduction). It’s hard to feel invisible taxes like the sales tax…

    Also, we’d just gone through the Gilmore years…this created a climate where tax increases could occur (a previous tax cut turned out to be more painful than expected).

    Anyone with children in Virginia public colleges knew that budget cuts/hiring freezes were affecting their children’s education.

    State workers were feeling the pain of benefit cuts.

  2. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    “Any pea brain” can cut taxes, too.

  3. Steven Avatar

    Waldo: Democrat Tim Kaine is campaigning that he cut taxes for the City of Richmond.

    Does Tim have a pea in that pod?

    ~ the blue dog

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    The challenge in Virginia is to hold the line on taxes while preserving, or even improving, government services. It will take creativity not to mention a lot of hard, painful work. Once you raise taxes, you eliminate the incentive to think outside the box, to make the tough decisions …. as, it appears, we already have done in Virginia.

  5. Bob Griendling Avatar
    Bob Griendling

    Jim, the problem is I’ve never seen anyone who favors holding government more accountable, more efficient, more honest, whatever, who was ever satisfied.

    The crux of your arguement seems to be government isn’t perfect, so let’s not give it another dime until it is.

    What would convince you that taxes in Virginia, which are comparatively low, need to be raised to pay for what some say is a needed increase of $15 billion for transportation?

    If we passed a smart growth plan tomorrow, how long would it take until you are convinced that as good as it may be, smart growth can not obviate the need for some additional revenue for transportation?

    Waldo’s point is one I’ve made for a long time: Why should we trust a politician who rests his entire platform on nothing but tax cuts?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    You mean like Bill Bolling?

  7. sorrel Avatar

    Might as well put a cork in the talk about taxes in a political context, folks. Nothing will influence tomorrow’s vote now. I must say, however, that I am very disappointed with the political discussion thus far, maybe it will jump to a higher level after the primaries are over (I’m not holding my breath). It seems to me that the focus on taxes to the virtual exclusion of focus on programs is childish in the extreme and leads to a class of pols that make their way in the world on speaking more aggressively than the next guy about taxes, but never really closing on what the Government of Virginia is obligated to do for the citizens. Once we get a good discussion going on programs, we can come back ’round to taxes. I strongly suspect that, given the unrest over risign property values, the optimal debate would include a lot of discussion of how we structure state and municipal revenue collections in order to tax incomes, as opposed to unrealized property values. We can’t have that discussion if there are politicians willing to make careers on opposing any sort of tax hike. I just have the feeling that we’re all looking up the wrong end of the fiscal discipline/tax structure animal and we are actively discouraging the few leaders who seem even timidly willing to entertain new ideas on this subject. I guess we will just get about what we deserve from the political process, but I’m feeling very uneasy about how primitive the debate has been thus far. What’s even stranger is how many folks seem to viscerally like it “dumbed down.”

    Well, I’m going to take a nap until after the election on Tuesday. I have a sneaky feeling that I will not wake up Wednesday with a blissful feeling that democracy has triumphed in bringing reason to the complex challenges of modern governance.

  8. subpatre Avatar

    The reason for the “no tax” crowd is relatively simple. After a number of years of bombardment with the “It’s for the children” mantra, taxpayers have forked over more and more money, with no visible results. Instead, we’ve been treated to the same lobbyists squawking they need yet more cash, over and above the previous increases, to meet minimum SOL or NCLB minimum standards.

    The educational lobby has simply lost traction with the common folk. What’s important is (unfortunately) not the details. Most citizens can’t articulate exactly what’s wrong, and probably lose any debate on the matter. They’re simply fed up with years of increasing cost and whining at taxpayer expense. In an analog to the ‘cry wolf’ effect or the ticking clock, the people just don’t hear it anymore.

    It’s a shame that the campaign rhetoric has excluded constructive details, but as Jim points out, who needs details with tons of cash around? Del. Louderback, now retiring, spent several terms trying to reform the tax structure. The net result was one or two ideas cherry-picked by others to [drumroll] raise taxes.

    It’s true that any pea-brain can raise taxes; there’s hundreds of examples from Fairfax to Prince William to Loudoun etc. In most cases you can also use one county over the last ten years. In contrast, I don’t know of any examples of taxes cut, much less cut by Waldo’s “any pea brain”. Got cites?

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Go Griendling.

    Raising taxes is one thing, raising the tax burden is another.

    As long as taxes don’t increase faster than commerce/incomes, who cares?

    In Norway, the government will send people south at government expense if they get the winter blues. In the US we get other benefits.

    Both Griendling and Bacon are correct, it seems to me: what you pay and what you get are equally important.

  10. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    Democrat Tim Kaine is campaigning that he cut taxes for the City of Richmond.

    Does Tim have a pea in that pod?

    All squares are rectangles. Not all rectangles are squares.

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