Sunday, November 09, 2003

Having it both ways on tax increases

This editorial from the Norfolk paper accuses the Speaker of the House of Delegates of trying to have it both ways on government revenues:

"No new taxes, he says out of one side of his mouth. Local governments deserve more help from the state than they’re getting, he says out the other. These are incompatible wishes, unless Howell intends to eliminate major state programs and turn the revenue that funds them over to cities and counties. . . .

If he remains true to his unwillingness to increase anyone’s tax burden while cutting taxes, then we can only assume he intends to cut the heck out of a state budget that has already been shrunk by $6 billion in the past two years. We look forward to the details of the speaker’s plan for doing that. Howell implies that the task won’t be so difficult by pointing out that Virginia’s state budget nearly doubled in the last decade.

We pose a challenge: knock off inflation, a huge buildup in the state prison system, spiraling growth in mandated spending for Medicare-Medicaid health care coverage, costs related to enrollment growth in public schools and almost $1 billion annually in car-tax reimbursement to localities (which, unfairly, counts as growth in the state budget), and tell Virginians then how much their budget has increased.

The result will reveal what Howell ought to know, that Virginia has one of the leanest state budgets in the nation. Howell is honest enough to acknowledge that “localities have too many responsibilities and too few resources.” That’s why property taxes — one of the few sources of revenue available to local governments — have gone up in dozens of localities in the last few years.

But the speaker is on slippery ground when he offers to share state income tax revenue with localities or fund school construction and renovation with state dollars. Virginia can do either of these, but only at the expense of some current state programs. Howell needs to say which ones. . . .

Hopefully, a majority of Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates will put reality ahead of fantasy when they convene in Richmond in January. Otherwise, we’re headed for a crash."

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