Del. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax) finds himself out of step with fellow Fairfax Republicans Del. Vince Callahan and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites. Albo voted against the tax increases and the budget because he says Fairfax doesn’t get its fair share of its tax dollars returned to the county. Of course, the question is what’s fair? A couple of years ago, a proposal for a sales tax increase for schools would have returned 80% of Fairfax’s new tax dollars to the county, but Albo opposed that, too, because he felt Fairfax didn’t get enough. So it appears that nothing short of every Fairfax dollar returning to the county is good enough for Albo. Meanwhile, Callahan and Devolites endorsed the final budget, even though Callahan voted against the tax increase that made the budget possible.
Alexandria Delegate Marian Van Landingham took note of the irony:
“It really disturbs me that not one member of the House conference committee voted for the revenue package but got to decide how to spend it…. Not only did they get to decide how to spend the money but some of them received special benefits from the revenue package they fought so hard to defeat. The majority leader (Salem Delegate Morgan Griffith (R)], for example, got money for a museum in Roanoke. It’s just really annoying.”
Alluding to the increases in funding for K-12 schools and higher education, Sen. Jay O’Brien (R-Fairfax), and Delegates Jeff Frederick (R-Prince William) and Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), who all voted against the tax increases that made those spending increases possible, “said they do not dispute that those budget increases were good.”
Democrats think the budget fight bodes well for their candidates in 2005 when all delegate seats will be up for re-election. House Democratic caucus leader Del. Brian Moran says the Democrats’ theme will be that the GOP has shown an “inability to govern.”
And party leader Kerry Donley says Gov. Mark Warner’s star has risen mightily as a result of the budget compromise.
Maybe on both counts. But a leading Virginia businessman told me yesterday he feels Warner was too quick to compromise and left money on the table, especially for transportation, that a savvier politician could have collected.
And a more nuanced strategy for Democrats was articulated by the Governor himself yesterday when he said,
“In the two years since I took office, Virginia has faced $6 billion in budget shortfalls. We closed those shortfalls by shrinking the size of government, and by insisting on reforms that increase efficiency. Today’s action does not change in any way our continuing determination to reform government and to make it more efficient. The investments made today will protect Virginia’s most basic assets for years to come, and we must remain responsible stewards.”
If Democrats focus on efficiency and fiscal prudence over the next year and suggest even more ways of saving taxpayer money in the ’05 campaigns, they may find themselves in much better position to raise more revenue, especially for transportation, in the following Assembly session.
Meanwhile, tax reform is still only a goal.
Even Sen. Emmett Hanger, one of the leaders of the tax-reform movement from his perch in the upper house, isn’t sure that what the General Assembly came up with at the end of the budget process was true reform.
“We’ve still got some work to do,” said Hanger, listing among the items that he had hoped would be included in the final revenue package the elimination of the estate tax and a continuation of the car-tax phaseout.
“There was a feeling that legislators were becoming wary of raising some taxes to eliminate others, so those two fell by the wayside in the final accounting. But we can work to get back on track next year,” Hanger told the [Augusta Free Press].
And transportation still waits … and suffers.
Here’s a great little story about how government can help workers whose jobs are lost to outsourcing or other systemic changes in the economy.