Monthly Archives: March 2004

Virginia News

Del. Steve Shannon (D-Fairfax) held a public hearing on the budget last night. Here are the details.

More details on the Hopewell public meeting are here.

Here’s why lead House negotiator Del. Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax) opposes new taxes.

Budget impasse imperils tuition grants, though all three budget plans – the Governor’s the House’s and the Senate’s — claim to increase funding for higher ed.

House agrees “to increase funding for mental retardation services and to bolster reimbursements the state pays to hospitals and nursing homes for care they provide to indigent people.” But “House members cannot agree on how much more they will spend on health care until the tax issue is resolved.”

Local tax option doesn’t work for some local officials.

Frederick County officials blast local legislators

Legislators need not just pick them up but have them.

From here, you can link to four stories The Washington Post published today about how legislators and voters are reacting to the budget. It is a waste of newsprint. I’ll have more about why later.

Budget Meetings Tonight

Thursday, March. 25, 7-9:00 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Room 4-5

Organized by Del. Steve Shannon (D-Fairfax)

Thursday, March 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Fauquier County Catlett Fire Station. 3447 Catlett Road (Route 28).

Organized by Delegates Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge), Cole (R-Fredericksburg) and Athey (R-Front Royal).

Virginia News

I reported below that Del. Hamilton’s idea of a local option sales tax was being “disparaged by House negotiators.” But after reading newspapers around the state, it appears the one leading the charge to dismiss the idea is – guess – our fearless (or might one say fearful, as in afraid of his own shadow and that cast by the anti-tax zealots) – speaker, Bill Howell (R-Stafford).

Del. Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax) who has dutifully carried the anti-tax message to the negotiating table, did not dismiss the tax option idea out of hand. “It’s worthy of discussion,” he said.

In the same story, we learn that right-winger Sen. Jay O’Brien (R-Fairfax) is trying to give himself a way out – a continuing budget resolution. But Sen. Tom Norment (R-James City) calls it for what it is.

What will happen without a budget? The Richmond Times-Dispatch asks the experts.

The Hopewell public meeting drew big crowd that supported higher taxes but not a referendum.

Referendum also drew little support in Albemarle County.

The Senate passed a bill to prevent House members from raising campaign funds while the session continues, citing shenanigans of Republican Delegate Terrie L. Suit of Virginia Beach.

Local officials in Speaker’s home area aren’t happy. Which makes me happy.

The Washington Post outlines the impact on northern Virginia jurisdictions.

The Post continues its series on Dels. Steve Shannon’s (D-Fairfax) and Jeff Frederick’s (R-Prince William) the first year as lawmakers.

The Daily Press editorial page goes head to head with Del. Phil Hamilton (R-Newport News).

The same paper carries this op-ed by Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. In it he reveals himself a liar and coward in my book. “Some of these tax increases mean an additional $1,000 out of the checking account of the typical Virginia family each year.”

There is no way that the “typical” Virginia family will see a $1,000 increase. It’s beyond a distortion; it’s a lie.

He then writes, “The details and consequences of the various tax increase proposals were purposefully concealed from the voters during last fall’s legislative campaigns.” Did I miss the GOP’s tax plan during the campaigns? They were just as silent, but note that the House, for all its waving of hands, is now pushing a tax increase plan. But please continue, Mr. Kilgore. I hope more newspapers continue to supply the rope.

The Staunton News Leader calls its House delegation “slackers”:

During the last election, the members of this newspaper’s editorial board were as impressed by our candidates for local office as they were depressed by the ones seeking state office. There’s a reason for that.

While our local governments in Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro do the heavy lifting, struggling under the burden of one unfunded mandate after another, our delegates engage in political posturing. If state government won’t do its job, the gap has to be filled with taxes at the local level that will be more onerous in their severity than anything that could be dealt out at the state level. Excellence is neither cheap nor free, except for those who take credit for things they never did.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, no tax and spend editorial page, likes the local option sales tax idea.

Following things blow-by-blow? Votes in the special session are tracked here.

Other news
A bio-tech high school?

Here’s how developers stifle free speech.

The new Loudoun County Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors clashes with school advocates.

Virginia News: Fairfax Budget Meeting

Del. Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-Fairfax) last night defended their votes against the Senate’s budget plan to a crowd of about 75 people at another of the town meetings being held across the state.

Both lawmakers said they were reluctant to support an income tax increase because a greater burden would fall on their constituents who have higher than state average incomes.

Without the income tax increase, Sen. Devolites said she could support other aspects of the Senate plan.

Del. Petersen said he is floating a plan that would encompass:
*Increasing tobacco taxes 25 cents
*Repealing business sales tax exemptions, except for the airline and shipping industries
*Increasing gasoline taxes six cents a gallon and dedicating the revenue to transportation
*Doubling all DMV licensing fees
*Transferring the one-half cent of the sales tax now dedicated to transportation
*Increasing personal exemptions from $800 to $1,000
*Increasing the income tax filing threshold to $7,000 for singles and $14,000 for married couples

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said of the tax swap for transportation, “I don’t see it as getting you a lot of new revenue.” Moreover, he points out that the gas tax is not a “growth tax.” As cars become more efficient, revenue will not increase as much as sales tax revenues.

Petersen has been trying to form as “compromise caucus” of moderate Democrats and Republicans around his ideas.

Sen. Devolites said an increase in the income tax would be another “tax transfer” from northern Virginia to the rest of the state. She also complained about the “local composite index” that returns only seven percent of state education funds to the area that has 28 percent of the state’s students.

However, Devolites’ position reveals a contradiction. Two years ago, Devolites as a delegate promoted the idea of allowing local jurisdictions to authorize a referendum to add an income tax surcharge of one-half percent. So while she now opposes an income tax increase, she was willing to slough the decision off to local officials and a referendum.

Both legislators liked the idea of Republican Del. Phil Hamilton of Newport News allowing localities to increase their sales tax one-half percent, but according to a story in The Washington Post today, that idea is now being disparaged by House negotiators.

Both legislators did a good job of explaining the budget problems. Petersen pointed out the degree to which the car tax rebate burdens the budget. Devolites said the discretionary general fund of the budget has actually decreased in the past two years, while the non-general fund has grown more dramatically due to mandated programs such as Medicaid and tuition assistance.

When asked what would happen if a budget is not approved by the Assembly, Petersen, an attorney, said his reading of the constitution seemed to grant the governor the power to keep the lights on in government until later this year. Petersen said the governor has the authority to continue spending for 30 months after a budget has been enacted, which could be interpreted as the time he signed the last budget, which Petersen thought was probably April 2002.

Barbara Allen, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the largest teachers union in the county, recited figures given to her from Fairfax County schools of the impact of a budget impasse:

*The school system would lose $337.1 million dollars
*All school employees would suffer a 25 percent pay cut
*6,000 teacher positions would be eliminated
*Class size would increase 10 students per class.
*Summer school and all school transportation would be cancelled.
*The school year would be shorten by 14 days.

Devolites said in her discussion with House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), she believes the House would approve a budget about $100 million less than the governor has proposed, if there were no sales or income tax increases.

Virtually all of the questions and comments by the audience were about how the state must fund its core services. Residents raised concerns about transportation, education, mental health and general health services. A request for a show of hands about the three budget proposals was ruled out of order by the moderator, but it seemed to me most people there favored tax increases on the order of what the Governor and Senate have proposed.

Petersen plans another town hall meeting next week. See details for it and other meetings in the state here.

Budget Questions

Here are some questions for House delegates the Virginia Organizing Project has developed.

More background can be found here, here and here.

Virginia News

This Could be a Winner: “Del. Phillip A. Hamilton said he will propose the idea [of a half-cent local option sales tax] when the four senators and five delegates gather for the first informal conference in nine days to reconcile vast differences in the rival House and Senate budget plans.”

Here’s what happened at the Prince William County public meeting last night. I have another view here.

Del. Terrie Suit misleads.

Morgan Griffith Compromises?

Give ‘em hell, Barnie. And Preston is feeling the heat.

Richmond Times Dispatch pans orchestrated political action

Planning to send your kid to a Virginia college?

So this is fair: “[S]tate-income-tax “liabilities” for individuals have climbed 137 percent since 1990, while corporate tax liabilities have increased only 15 percent.”

Warner reminds us: “He argued that he was the victim of budget-deficit low-balling by the administration of Republican Jim Gilmore. What the previous administration had estimated to be an $800 million shortfall grew to $3.8 billion and eventually required $6 billion in cuts to state spending.”

Impact of budget impasse on Harrisonburg, Albemarle and Lynchburg.

Guess who’s running for Lt. Guv?

Guess who else is running for Lt. Guv?

Budegt Meeting Update…


Three meetings are scheduled today:

*Del. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-Fairfax) will be at the Mantua Elementary School. Meeting begins at 8:00. Please note this is a previously scheduled meeting arranged by the Mantua Civic Association and not a public hearing per se. However, the public is invited. We urge you to attend to show support for the Governor’s and the Senate’s budgets. Sen. Devolites was one of the few senators who voted against the Senate’s budget.

*Tonight at 7:30 a public meeting will be held in the Albemarle County Office Building. In Charlottesville. Several delegates and senators are scheduled to attend.

*Another meeting tonight is in Hopewell, 7:00 p.m. at the Hopewell City Council Chambers, City Hall. Dels. Ingram, Cox, Miles and Sens. Lambert, Marsh, Martin and Quayle are expected.

Budgets and the Truth

Last week, a new survey was released that found, as The Washington Post’s T.R. Reid reported, “Americans feel disconnected from government and ignored by the political process … with nearly half of the electorate saying they have no impact on what the government does.”

Maybe that’s because we don’t trust people in government. We’ve heard plenty about missing WMDs and deflated Medicare costs. I thought, what makes us angry – and I’ll bet just a little disconnected – is the lying.

But on the same page with Reid’s story was an article about the GOP’s reaction to the incoming Spanish prime minister and that the few “coalition members” that are in Iraq are getting cold feet. The story included this:
“Congressional Republicans rallied to President Bush’s defense yesterday, chiding Spanish voters for ousting a government that had backed his Iraq policy and dismissing anti-administration sentiment among many Europeans and Muslims as behind-the-times thinking.”

“Behind-the-times thinking”?

The article also quotes House intelligence committee Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.): “There are still some people in what is referred to, by some, as Old Europe, that are seeing this a different way. . . . The respect level that the United States of America has on a global basis is very high. I’m not talking about street popularity. I’m talking respect.”

I’m talking not connected to reality.

Maybe, I started thinking, lying isn’t not the right word for it.

Then I attended Tuesday night’s meeting in Prince William County on the budget. It was a packed hall – as in little standing room let alone seats. But before the little people got to speak, we were treated to some thoughts from the romantics of Richmond.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter started off with an oh-so-pompous presentation of how the House budget actually raised more money than the Governor in some areas and met him squarely in many others. That the House budget is based on widely discredited revenue figures from eliminating sales tax exemptions on businesses was no matter. The House says the exemptions will add $550 million or so (based on figures that are nearly 10 years old). The state tax department said it’s more like $150 million. So in the 2005 session of the Assembly, if the House budget were approved, lawmakers would need to cut programs due to shortage of funds. And by the way, there are future cuts in teacher retirements that would have to be made up by localities.

Del. Michèle McQuigg then tells us that she’s wary of raising the sales tax because of the results of the sales tax referendum 18 months ago. You hear that often, even though there is absolutely no data that suggests the “no” vote on the transportation referendum was principally a vote against taxes. Many folks were like me — voting no because we didn’t like the plan, not the tax. But she had her mind made up.

Then Del. Bob Marshall sets us straight: “There is no relationship between state taxes and property taxes,” he lectured. He repeated it several times, perhaps hoping we’d be hypnotized into believing it. “Property taxes are based on assessments,” he said.

No, sir, assessments are based on what the house is worth; property taxes are based on the assessment and the tax rate. If local jurisdictions get more money from the state while assessments are going up, the local pols can lower the tax rate. And when the state doesn’t provide enough money…. Well, you get the picture. But I don’t think Marshall did.

Marshall then told us that revenues should be considered separately from expenditures. “Earth to Marshall, come in, please.” When I finally got to speak (I was the 40th speaker and no one had yet spoken against higher taxes), I tried to explain the facts of life using the same analogy as conservatives employ. You know, the one about how families make budget decisions. The right wing wackos tell us that families must live within their budgets, as if they have no control over income. To me, the family analogy is useful, but the wackos have it all wrong. If a family wants some more stuff, they may decide to increase income by getting a second job, the spouse working too, or by going back to school for better credentials and, hopefully, a higher paying job. They don’t just cut expenses. They consider income and expenses together. What a novel idea! But one that apparently is not in the Virginia tradition.

After hearing all this and thinking about “disconnected Americans” and their impotence with regard to government action, it was pretty obvious to me: It’s not that politicians lie; it’s that they know a different truth, one might say an altered state of mind, probably similar to what LSD can do. They believe what they say no matter how absurd it sounds to us little people. But then, maybe we’re just deluded by our own “behind-the-times thinking.”

Maybe pigs can fly.

Budget Meetings

More public meetings have been scheduled and the time for the meeting with Del. Gary Reese has changed to 7:00 p.m. Updated schedule here.

Information that might help ask the right questions of your legislators is here, thanks to the Virginia Organizing Project. Also, here is information about the offsetting of property taxes, categorized by jurisdiction in which meetings are being held. It is derived from a Senate Finance Committee report. And here are some additional talking points.