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.