Why can’t we get a straight answer on hard numbers? Newspapers around the state have been reporting conflicting revenue estimates regarding the House plan to eliminate the sales tax exemption on businesses. The House estimates the new tax, some if not most of which would be passed on to consumers, would raise $560 million, but an earlier report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch stated: “Questions remain over how much would be generated by the erasure, which in effect makes business pay more taxes: Hamilton contends it would raise $561 million, while a taxation department spokeswoman has put the figure at $150 million.”

Yet today, the same newspaper, in a report written by one of the same reporters who co-authored the story from which the above quote was lifted, we read, “In contrast, the House has countered with a budget proposal, primarily built on expected rises in current tax collections and about $560 million that would be raised by abolishing tax breaks for several major businesses, such as utilities, airlines and telecommunications.”

No mention of the lower estimate from the tax department. The Washington Post has consistently used the higher number. Why? Today I placed a second call to the taxation department. A spokeswoman, Dianne Deloach, acted as if the discrepancy was news to here and said if I put it in an e-mail, she’d get back to me.

It seems to me reporters need at the very least to mention the discrepancy in every story or explain to their readers why both figures, perhaps using different variables, are correct – or lies.

Another new figure, first voiced by Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R), is that the “typical Virginia family” would see tax increases of $1,000 under the Senate’s plan. Here’s what the Senate estimates. No report that I’ve seen has explained how Kilgore came up with the higher number. To report it without question is irresponsible journalism.

The discrepancy was debated at a town hall meeting in Lexington. The story reports:

Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge, opened a town-hall-style meeting yesterday at a local library with a barrage of economic numbers and statistics in support of the House of Delegates’ biennial budget proposal.

Despite Cline’s efforts, a show of hands during the meeting indicated that a large majority of the 100 people stuffed into the room support the state Senate’s more expensive budget plan.

That’s the first time I’ve read about or seen a show of hands at these public meetings. Many lawmakers don’t ask for that vote. It puzzle me why not. Is it because they want to be able to spin the argument to their side? Even if only a handful of folks support the lawmaker’s point of view, they can claim that citizens are “divided.” Yet legislators who support the Senate’s tax plan have spoken to audiences that clearly favor at least the Governor’s plan, but a show of hands was not requested.

Still, after a week of meetings, newspapers are beginning to characterize the meetings as demonstrations of support for at least the Governor’s plan, if not the Senate’s. Here’s a report of the meeting in Christiansburg. It includes:

Meetings in Hopewell, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia also revealed support for the Senate’s plan and frustration about a lack of funding for education and social services, according to newspaper reports across the state.

A story in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted an unnamed Republican source saying GOP members expecting to return to Richmond with evidence to bolster their anti-tax stance have instead received “a rude awakening” at the meetings.

A Virginian Pilot editorial, which also criticizes state lawmakers representing the Hampton Roads area for not holding public forums, says:

The town meetings held around the state, thus far, have surprised anti-tax forces in the Assembly.

Most of the speakers have been more interested in sustaining Virginia’s services than in beating the anti-tax drum.

Meanwhile, another tuition hike is announced and the Feds say don’t expect much help from them

Finally, unless you want to be charged with a felony, do not try this at home or in your car.