Monthly Archives: April 2005


Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine’s plan to help local governments reduce taxes on owner-occupied homes received a mostly favorable response Monday night in a town hall-style meeting at the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

But some of the questions the Democratic gubernatorial candidate fielded about his proposal contained hints of skepticism, as audience members wondered whether an effort to reduce the locally imposed real estate tax would merely cause local governments to increase other taxes.

Gee, isn’t it amazing how smart voters can be! While I like any plan that gives localities more control over their own destinies, probably the second best thing you can say about Kaine’s real estate tax proposal is that, fortunately, Kilgore has one, too. Let’s hope they cancel each other out.

I Am Not A Crook

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, under an ethical cloud in recent months, has told supporters that he has “never been found to have violated any law or rule by anyone.”

In a mailing made public Monday, the Texas Republican’s campaign added a defiant rebuttal to the letter, saying, “Democrats have made clear that their only agenda is the politics of personal destruction, and the criminalization of politics.

Criminalization of politics? That’s like saying the agenda is the vilification of the devil.

The politics of personal destruction also goes by “the impeachment of Bill Clinton.”

Another GOP Think Tank

Even Jim Gilmore has his own think tank.

More than 400 politicians, lobbyists and former members of Gilmore’s administration packed a hotel ballroom Saturday night for the inaugural dinner of Americans for Freedom and Opportunity. Gilmore (R) is the founder and chairman of the nonprofit group, which has said it will engage in “policy discussions and persuasion.”

“We are going to find ways to advance the cause of justice and goodness for the people of Virginia and the nation,” Gilmore vowed in a speech to the group.

The invitation for the fundraiser makes plain the philosophy that will drive Gilmore’s organization: “Too often,” it says, “the liberal media, the special interests and some politicians of both parties combine to frustrate the will of the people.”

Gilmore’s former chief of staff, M. Boyd Marcus, said the organization will try to spark discussion in Virginia and across the nation about issues that the former governor especially cares about.

“We are looking at policy development, particularly focusing on reforms on taxes and spending,” Marcus said. “One of the themes the governor is going to be talking about is that the middle class is getting squeezed pretty hard.”

How are the Dems building an intellectual case for their party?

Dean Vs. DeLay

Democratic Party Chariman Howard Dean thinks DeLay will be an issue in ’06. Can Virginia Dems make him an issue in ’05?

“This is going to be an issue in 2006, and its going to be an issue in 2008 because we’re going to have an ad with a picture of (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay saying, ‘Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not? Or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'” Dean said in West Hollywood, Calif.

“It’s disturbing that Howard Dean would plot to use the life of Terri Schiavo for political gain,” Schmitt said Saturday. “This demonstrates a troubling lack of sensitivity and one would hope that Democrat leaders in Congress would reject such a strategy.

“The American people expect their leaders to provide solutions and principled leadership rather than overt partisan politicking.” Karen Finney, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, defended Dean’s comments, saying they were not a reflection of him trying to politicize the issue, but rather he was speaking to “Republican intrusiveness into people’s lives.”

“This is another example of a Republican party that is overreaching,” she said. “Tom Delay and his cronies want to intrude in personal family matters. Democrats believe that individuals and their families should be trusted to make these very personal decisions, not Tom DeLay and not the government.

The Unspoken Issue

The cost of Medicaid, a health-care program for the poor, is ballooning, sopping up at least 20 percent of this year’s $1 billion surplus. This is not an isolated event. Rather, it is part of a pattern of budget-busting problems that — the 2004 tax increase notwithstanding — could again imperil Virginia’s recently reaffirmed Triple-A credit rating, the highest possible.

But Medicaid is not sexy. For starters, most voters have no contact with the program. Thus, it has a small and almost voiceless constituency. Further, because Medicaid’s purpose, structure and financing are difficult to explain, the candidates just don’t.

Jeff Schapiro’s take on the shallow gubernatorial campaign.

Wishin’ and Hopin’

Jerry Kilgore’s plan to toughen domestic violence sentences is not a bad idea. But as with his good and bad ideas, he proposes no way to pay for it.

As for how much the legislative package will cost, Kilgore was short on specifics on the Tuesday conference call.

“You just won’t know until judges and people start using it,” Kilgore said. “I’ve seen huge financial impact statements come back, speaking from 10 years of experience in the criminal-justice system in Virginia, and it doesn’t end up being anywhere near that. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

Same thing with his plan for better pay for teachers. Good idea but no plan to pay for it.

“I think we ought to pay our better teachers better pay,” he said. Evaluations of teachers should include peer evaluation, teacher testing and parental evaluation, Kilgore said after his talk to Sabato’s class.
“You don’t have to be a proponent of tax increases to support more money for education,” Kilgore said. “You simply have to make it a priority” and boost the state’s overall economy by being an aggressive promoter of economic development, he said.

Simply make it a priority and the state’s economy responds. Magic!

At least with Kilgore’s proposals for helping poor children get a good education, he’s more intellectually honest. Which is to say “Screw them, let them get their own help.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore told University of Virginia students yesterday that he is opposed to school vouchers but favors a system that encourages private donations to help send poor children in failing schools to better schools.

Kilgore said the system would use tax credits or tax write-offs to encourage private contributions that would provide tuition-assistance grants to poor students who want to go to private schools or public schools outside their district.

He said the plan would give parents whose child is in a failing school the same choice as parents who are wealthy or who live in good school districts.

Kilgore has not spelled out the details of this plan yet.

Asked if the tax-credit plan would divert tax money from public education, Kilgore said, “It won’t take money away from public education. You have to make education funding a priority. . . . And the tax policy on the other side will be a great benefit to parents and kids in failing schools.”

If anyone can figure out that last quote, let me know.

Seems Kaine’s campaign is on to what should be their refrain whenever Kilgore promises something for nothing. But they’d be better off eliminating the cute phrases (“cheap on crime”)that can get lifted when their more complete answers are better.

Delacey Skinner, the spokesperson for the campaign of presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Tim Kaine, raised issue with the lack of specifics from the Kilgore camp on the funding issue.

“The lieutenant governor certainly supports being tough on domestic violence. The point that we’re trying to emphasize here is that you can’t be tough on crime and cheap on crime at the same time,” Skinner told The Augusta Free Press.

“It’s one thing to say that you support measures to be tough on crime, but clearly to be tough on crime, you need to pay for training and support of law-enforcement officers who can do the job on the front lines. And you can’t do that when you’ve opposed every effort that has been made in recent years to provide money to pay for the public-safety officers, judges and parole officers needed to enforce the law,” Skinner said.

Say it over and over again.

Meanwhile, Kilgore is acting like a Democrat on the Schiavo case when it comes to Tom DeLay. That is he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions. Or maybe he doesn’t have any.

Former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore isn’t defending the Texas congressman who leads his party in the U.S. House of Representatives but also is not explicitly joining calls for his ouster.

After speaking Wednesday to a University of Virginia politics class, Kilgore politely sidestepped a reporter’s question about whether he agrees with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which he had identified as his favorite newspaper, that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, should be replaced.

“I’m convinced the House leadership is going to do the right thing here,” the GOP candidate for governor said. “They are going to look at the facts and do the right thing with Mr. DeLay.”

Courageous, Jerry.

Post & Parmelee Again

The Washington Post is again writing stories about taxes and quoting James Parmelee, who is identified as “president of a tax relief group in Fairfax County.” What he is, is president of the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee.

He’s also a usual suspect for lazy reporters at The Post. A Lexis-Nexis search for his name over the past two years will turn up over 60 hits, meaning this guy is in The Post an average of every other week. Peter Whoriskey apparently can’t find anyone with anything more constructive to say that the predictable observations of Parmelee.

We all know why. Reporters call him not for any insight into the issue, but for a reliable “Our taxes are too high” quote. They know what he’ll say and he says it.

But what’s more appalling about this story is its slant of some issues and ignorance of others. One is the cyclical nature of real estate increases. At the very end of the article (by which time many readers have stopped reading), Whoriskey makes mention of the fact that before the spike in taxes the last few years, there was a long period of flat taxes.

The increases in recent years, however, are more than making up for lost time. Even taking into account the last 10 years of taxes and taking out the effects of inflation, average home tax bills in Fairfax County have risen about 70 percent.

That’s true, but there was another five years before that when taxes were flat. When accounting for the last 15 years, the average increase is a lot lower. In fact, after a decade of declining real estate taxes, Fairfax County reports that it wasn’t until 2002 that they climbed back to the level they were in 1991.

Since FY 2000, Real Estate Taxes have increased $2,173.82 or an average annual increase of 11.3 percent per year, not adjusting for inflation. Adjusted for inflation, Real Estate Taxes per “typical” household are $1,749.21 higher than FY 2000, an average annual increase of 8.3 percent. Since FY 1991, Real Estate Taxes have increased an average of 2.5 percent per year after adjusting for inflation. The Real Estate Tax rate is proposed to decrease from $1.13 per $100 of assessed value to $1.03 per $100 of assessed value in FY 2006. This tax decrease represents a savings of $444.77 per “typical” household as compared to the rate of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value.

The Post article also make no mention of the declining share of corporate taxes.

Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) called the budget “a sea change from years past” because sources of revenue other than residential real estate rose. Commercial real estate, for instance, rebounded after a three-year slump and gained 12.7 percent in value.

(Yes, Parmelee is quoted in this story, too.)

I don’t have the link, but here’s the article from last month that goes into more detail.

While Fairfax County residents are talking about a fifth straight year of double-digit increases in home values, there is a bit of good news for homeowners, who pay the biggest share of the county’s taxes: Commercial real estate assessments soared in 2004, reversing years of decline or almost no change.

If it continues, the suddenly hot real estate market for offices, stores, hotels and other commercial property eventually could help ease the tax burden on homeowners, county officials said.

Noting the 12.74 percent average increase in commercial assessments, County Executive Anthony H. Griffin said, “This is important, because it may represent the beginnings of a shift, albeit slight, in the burden shouldered predominantly by the residential taxpayer over the past few years.”

…Commercial real estate taxes contributed only 17.4 percent of the county’s tax base this year, the smallest percentage in at least 15 years.

Read that again: Smallest percentage in at least 15 years.

The worse offense in this article is that there is virtually no mention of the declining state share of expenditures or declining federal taxes. As I wrote two years ago in a column in The Post, then the federal tax cuts and the car tax cut more than made up for the increase in real estate taxes. I’d be surprised if the numbers weren’t still a true picture of tax burdens.

But every year at this time, The Post feels compelled to write a story about taxes being too high, even if it’s a small group, led by Parmelee and other paid GOP hacks, that complain.

But the allow The Post writers and editors to go on auto-pilot.

Schaivo, the Child and Wife

I admit that I didn’t have one of those “my parents were my best friends” kind of relationships growing up.

So sue me. But I suspect most of us have or had the kind of relationship with our parents that, into adulthood, didn’t really include finishing one another’s thoughts.

What I mean is that I love(d) my deceased father and my 84-year old mother dearly and appreciate many of the values and experiences they passed on to me, but they were after all, two people I had no choice in. And they came with a very clear set of rules. They were the boss. They provided a safe harbor. At first, parents are the closest persons in our lives and we aim to please them. That’s what kids do.

But after 20 years of marriage, there is no comparison to the emotional and intellectual intimacy I have with my wife. I asked her the other day who she thought understood best her ideas on character and values? Who best knew what she might want if she couldn’t communicate, especially in end-of-life decisions — me or her parents. Of course, she said me. And I’m a sonofabitch most times. And this is a woman who still is close to her 85-year old father. And she is the light of his life.

And now that my kids are growing up — in three years, we will have gone from three in the house to empty-nesters — I realize that as much as I think I know what their values and morals are now, I could well be clueless in a few years.

Yet, some folks think parents might deserve equal weight in end-of-life decisions.

The Schiavo case has provoked a passionate American conversation, which is taking place on a more profound level than the simple yes and no answers of the polls. Yes, the vast majority disdain the politicians who chose to exploit the case. And yes, a solid majority would not want their own lives prolonged in a similar situation. But the questions that cut closest to home are the family issues. What would you do if Terri Schiavo were your daughter? Why couldn’t Michael Schiavo just give custody over to the parents? What do we do about custody in a society where the parent-child bond is more durable than many marriages?

But durable does not mean functional. And it certainly doesn’t means the parents know best. For both parents and children, life lessons change one’s perceptions of some “moral” issues, in part because the issues are impacted by new science. Those changes can mean divergent views between generations.

Kids accept and adopt most of their parents teachings early on, but then build on them, in very different ways, through early adulthood. I expect to be surprised in the next decade during discussions about what’s important to them and what they want out of life, about their politics and especially who, if anyone, before I go, they will decide to build their own life with.

I know most parents find it hard to let their kids go, but only now am I beginning to understand why. They will have one day, God willing, a relationship that is much closer than ours could ever be. A marriage is supposed to be one of equal partnership, which fosters emotional intimacy that isn’t always as easy in a parent-child relationship.

Even in the closet relationships between parent and child — at least most of them, my guess is — it pales compared to the life long unions we make.

We can start parsing when a marriage is long enough for the husband to know better than the wife what she might want. I’ve been married 20 years, the Schiavos, six before her accident. With all due respect to the Schindlers, I think that could easily be long enough for Michael Schiavo to be the one most likely to know what her feelings would be.