Monthly Archives: April 2004

Tax Bill Passes Senate

YEAS–Blevins, Chichester, Colgan, Deeds, Devolites, Edwards, Hanger, Hawkins, Houck, Howell, Lambert, Locke, Lucas, Marsh, Miller, Mims, Norment, Potts, Puckett, Puller, Quayle, Reynolds, Ruff, Saslaw, Stolle, Stosch, Ticer, Wampler, Watkins, Whipple, Williams–31.

NAYS–Bolling, Cuccinelli, Martin, Newman, Obenshain, O’Brien, Rerras, Wagner–8.

Note the difference in this vote and the one for SB 30, the original Senate budget with a $4 billion tax increase. Sen. Brandon Bell (R-Roanoke) voted against SB 30 but didn’t vote today. Missing in action? Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites voted against SB 30 but voted for this one. She’ll argue that this one doesn’t hurt her constituents as much, i.e., not much income tax reform. But Sen. Nick Rerras (R-Norfolk) voted for SB 30 but against this one. Go figure.


John Kalitka of Arlington is my most persistent commentator, so let me start with a couple of his comments.

John references Paul Goldman’s column where he states that “[t]here has been no concerted effort to educate the public, to inform the public, and demonstrate to the public why more new revenue is necessary.”

Geez, I heard a lot of reasons at the public hearings. The ill told of their hardships, teachers and students talked of their challenges, and one need only drive a car to know of the transportation problems. But apparently that’s not enough.

Now, of course, I could volley back: Prove tax cuts help the economy or that taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth. Exactly what kind of proof does John and Goldman want?

In another post, John writes, “…for the most part, those who receive government services should be expected to pay for them.”

That may be an irreconcilable difference in philosophy between us.

He also writes:

To be “fair,” raising the statewide tax burden shouldn’t be seen as a cure-all for gaps in local revenue streams.

If tax reform truly is necessary, shouldn’t a major component of such reform be to insure that there is some overall balance between the amount of tax revenue raised in a particular jurisdiction and what is returned to that jurisdiction?

Spoken like a true Northern Virginia. I’ve made that argument, too. And I see the point. The question is where do you draw the line. If all the money raised locally were to be returned locally, Fairfax would have gold plated schools. (No, only our government center is “gold plated”; our supervisors have their priorities). And Amherst wouldn’t have much more than Ben Cline and Vance Wilkins, and if that isn’t poverty, I don’t know what is.

I figure it this way: If given the chance to trade places with folks in Amherst, or Danville, or Bristol – not that there are not the nicest people and I’m sure very nice places to live – and I would stay put, then I don’t mind sharing. Isn’t that one of the rules they teach you in kindergarten?

Fact is, for all we talk about property tax relief, such taxes in Fairfax aren’t that bad, even with rising assessments. Consider the alternative.

Denise says it better than me, though. She’s one of the few who agree with me and posts so. I guess most liberals have a life.

Denise and John have an interesting discussion – flat tax, taxing wealth and income, etc. I agree with my Dad. (Yes, you can blame him for my liberal views, but go easy on him; he’s not in a position to defend himself.) He used to say “Nobody should make more than $50,000 a year.” That was 40+ years ago, so we can now raise it to, say $55,000. I guess it would be fair to tax consumption heavily. Sure, the guy who buys six mansions and five yachts is giving carpenters work, but even with all his consumption, everyday workers, carpenters included, are falling farther behind.

I’ll leave it to John and Denise to sort out the details.

John also doesn’t like that I don’t like the way The Washington Post quotes James Parmelee in virtually every story about taxes. Note, John, in the last story that quotes the ubiquitous Parmelee he was the only John Q. Citizen quoted, as if there are no Joe Six-Packs (or at least Charles Chardonnays) that have a different point of view.

John also likes Dave Albo’s preference for property taxes instead of state taxes because Fairfax doesn’t get back all it puts in the state coffers. At least that what Albo says. I think he likes property taxes because he doesn’t have to take the heat.

For those who think the Senate’s – and perhaps the entire Assembly’s – decision to cap the car tax is a gold mine of ’05 election fodder for Republicans, I say, “Bring it on.” I’d love nothing more than to see GOPers run on another No Car Tax platform.

Virginia News

So where are we?

At this moment, the Senate is apparently in caucus. No vote yet. No clear indication of some critical details, such as how the money from the earmarked ¼% sales tax increase gets distributed. That’s a big issue in places like Fairfax, where county supervisors have said no state budget, no property tax cut.

Sen. Russ Potts (R-Winchester) predicts “there will be more than 17 Republicans who vote for it.” But already this morning there’s word that one of the two hopeful pick ups – Del. Allen Louderback (R-Luray) — has said no. The other possible pick up is Del. Bobby Orrock (R-Thornburg).

Sen. Walter A. Stosch (R-Glen Allen) has the best analysis of the car tax issue I’ve read yet.

“[The car tax] is one of those paradoxes. It’s a good thing because it provides for tax relief but on the other hand it requires us to use state income tax and sales tax to do it, so we find ourselves in the awkward position of having to raise a tax to reduce a tax.”

And give Del. Bill Janis (R-Short Pump) credit for admitting that the car tax cut is just a ploy to rein in government spending.

“Every year going forward [from 2006], the portion that the state pays will get smaller and the portion that I pay will get larger. The reason to eliminate the car tax really is to take that money off the table for spending [by government] whether it’s in bad years or in good years.”

And Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Mt Salon) sings the Richmond version of the Carpenters’s every-other-wedding song, “We’ve Only Just Begun.” “It doesn’t quite complete the job of tax reform,” he says, “but this gives us a good place to start as far as that goes.”

While JMU announces tuition hike.

A Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial today states: The problem is that Virginia Democrats suffer from a deficiency of imagination and ideas….Alas, parties without serious platforms lack the legitimacy to discuss policy planks.

RTD editors are sniffing glue again. That’s the only explanation for them writing something like this with a straight pen. When the last GOP governor put us in this mess by running on a campaign platform that consisted of three words and when the GOP nationally, statewide and locally have only one plank, No New Taxes, how can you accuse the Dems of a lack of imagination.

Black Pot Speaks: Attorney Joel D. Bieber, who is representing Gary Thomson, the former head of the GOP party in Virginia in the civil suit against him for eavesdropping on a private conference call by Democrat, “said Monday that further litigation in the matter was ‘mean-spirited.’”

Can you imagine anyone representing the GOP calling someone “mean-spirited”? Mean-spirited is the modus operandi of Congressman Tom Delay, VP Dick Cheney and GOP strategist Karl Rove. Hell, it was GOP operative Lee Atwater who invented mean-spirited politics.

The Tidewater Metro Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Virginia, a group of mostly black ministers, doesn’t like gays. No way. No how.

“This kind of societal destruction must be immediately brought to its conclusion before it completely destroys us all,” declared the Rev. Browlee Hailstock Jr….

In its resolution, the Tidewater clergy group warned that churches’ past failures to act had led to the end of prayer in public schools decades ago and the elimination of the “blue law” that required most businesses in Virginia to close on Sundays….

“I vehemently oppose anybody who tries to associate the civil rights we talked about in the ’60s with this filth. Vehemently!” he said. “There is no comparison.”

“The African-American community has historically been very moral, very moralistic, very family-oriented,” [Brenda H.] Andrews[, publisher of the New Journal & Guide,] said. Hailstock said Monday that he tells homosexuals to get psychological counseling and prays for their redemption….

“Most of my ministry is spent in teaching people that God loves them, because organized religion has convinced them that God does not,” said Rev. Marty Luna Wolf , senior pastor at the New Life Metropolitan Community Church in Norfolk, who supports legal same-sex marriage.

What a concept!

Not sure if Tech was hoping that joining the ACC would give them this kind of exposure.

An article and an editorial in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star together tell an interesting story. The Spotsylvania county budget is slated to be $333 million next year, while neighboring Stafford County is budgeting $410 million. Why, the story asks and answers, the difference? The editorial chides the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors for preparing to pass a tax cut before they know what the state will provide.

Spotsylvania County government’s two main boards, on the surface, couldn’t be further apart on K-12 funding if one of them were speaking Mandarin. While the Board of Supervisors last year fully funded the School Board’s requests, this year, Superintendent Jerry Hill asserts, supervisors are set to bankroll only 43 percent of the system’s needs. Catastrophe looms, says Mr. Hill, because the higher board is set on cutting the real-estate tax rate to make up for surging home assessments–just when the county’s educational bills are spiking.

That alone, philosophically, may describe the difference between the two counties’ budgets, but the article gives some numbers.

Arlington says it’s not going to take advantage of a new state law that allows police to check for legal residency when investigating individuals for crimes. The bill’s sponsor, that always level-headed and thoughtful idiot Del. Bob Marshall, says, “Is this a political statement in defiance of the General Assembly? … Well, we can fight back – turn off their water.”

Here’s water czar Bob Marshall, trying to drink through his microphone.

Then, our presumptive GOP candidate for governor, says through a spokesman, “In light of the growing gang problem, particularly in Northern Virginia, it would be a good idea to do everything you can to fight [illegal immigration].”

Illegal immigrants are all gang members is the message, I guess. Yeah, well I saw the movie Gangs of New York. I know it’s really the Irish who are gang members. Let’s send all the Irish back to their tiny little island. Kilgore? That’s an Irish name isn’t it?

Loudoun County school growth is tops in the state.

First News on the Senate amendments to the Budget bill

The Senate Finance Committee has passed an amended HB 5018, including a provision that applies the brakes to the repeal of the car tax.

Two reports tonight provide confusing and perhaps conflicting information. The Washington Post reports:

The Senate would raise $984 million for the state’s general fund by increasing the sales tax by a quarter-cent, increasing the tobacco tax on cigarettes to 30 cents per pack, lowering income taxes, increasing deed recording fees and eliminating tax breaks for elderly Virginians and corporations.

But it would raise an additional $378 million — through another quarter-cent increase in the sales tax — for a special fund for education that will go directly to local governments and could encourage lower property taxes. It would also lower taxes on groceries more slowly than the House proposal and would defer elimination of the estate tax.

The Associated Press on the Richmond Times-Dispatch web site provides less detail and suggests the total package is only the $984 million in new revenue:

Amendments the Senate added to a House tax measure passed two weeks ago also remove a House provision that would eliminate the tax paid posthumously on the estates of multimillionaires.
The package, due for a vote by the full Senate and the House of Delegates on Tuesday, would generate $984 million over the course of a two-year state budget.…

The yearly limit on state reimbursements to cities and counties for revenue lost to phasing out the local tax on personal cars and pickup trucks and eliminating the House’s estate tax repeal are the only substantive changes the Senate proposed to the House Bill 5018….

They also recommend raising the levy on recording real estate transactions, closing some loopholes corporations use to send profits out of state tax-free and removing some sales tax exemptions for public utilities.

The Post provides the political drama:

Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said that more than a half-dozen Democratic delegates from Northern Virginia believe that freezing the car tax hurts their constituents and that the traditional formula for distributing the new tax revenue favors poor, rural parts of the state.

Several said they represent more than enough votes in the 100-member House to defeat the bill, raising the prospect that legislators from Warner’s party might doom his legacy proposal.

“This is the last thing I want to do,” said Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-Fairfax). “In addition to being in the same political party, I really like the guy. This is really hard. But the assumption has always been that Fairfax will always just go along. Honest to God, on this one, we just can’t.”

Moran said he and the other Democrats would review the bill Monday night and Tuesday morning to see if it “is fair and balanced.” Del. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) said that although he had not had a chance to look closely at the bill, he had concerns and might not be able to support it.

“I love Mark Warner, I respect Mark Warner, but I will do what’s best for my constituents,” he said Monday evening.

I’ll bet you Kris Amundson, Chap Petersen and Brian Moran never thought they’d be players at this stage. It will be interesting to see if they hold ‘em, fold ‘em or up the ante.

Virginia News

“I’m hearing from people to hold my ground,” said state Sen. Jay O’Brien, a Fairfax County Republican who is against the proposed tax increases. “They don’t want me to back off.

When Sen. O’Brien attended a town meeting on the budget and taxes, the overwhelming sentiment was for higher taxes to pay for needed services. But apparently he didn’t listen to them. Then again, people is just more than one person. So, two people told him to hold the line.
In the same story, listen to Del. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax):

Mr. Albo said he tells his pro-tax constituents that Fairfax County would receive only 24 cents worth of services for every dollar paid in new state taxes.
“That does not make them happy,” Mr. Albo said. “A few have said if that’s the case, they would be better off raising local property taxes. At least we get to keep 100 percent of that money.”

Of course, Dave Albo told a group of citizens last year that he objected to an earlier proposal to increase the sales tax for schools because it would only return 80 cents on the dollar to Fairfax citizens. There’s just no making Dave Albo happy … or trusting him.

And then there is Delegate Richard H. Black (R-Sterling):

[He] said his messages are more than 10-to-1 against higher taxes.

He said he heard from special-interest groups asking for tax increases at the beginning of the budget battle.

“Now there is just absolutely solid consensus here against the tax,” Mr. Black said. “The pro-tax communications have died out completely.”

To my knowledge Black did not call a town meeting to hear from his constituents. But then again, what would be the point. He only listens to the loonies at Patrick Henry College, which states as its educational philosophy that “Christian faith and genuine learning cannot be separated.” I guess Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs must make do with that fake learning.

Staunton News Leader takes on its delegates.

A deadline that could cost $50 million to miss.

Washington Post monthly columnist Melanie Scarborough frequently states as fact her assumptions or flat out lies. Here’s what she writes in a column yesterday: “Politicians love to promise to reduce class size (although research shows that the teacher, not the classroom size, is the principal determinant for student achievement)….”

That’s so flat out wrong it would be laughable but that The Washington Post lets her get away with it. There is no unanimity about the effectiveness of small classes in improving achievement, but there are studies that have shown smaller classes to be helpful. But even if you read the skeptics (see here, here and here), there is little in the literature to sustain Scarborough’s assertion. She just made it up, apparently ignoring research that doesn’t fit her prejudice.

They’re hunting witches in Loudoun

Less fumes mean more fuming.

Must be something in the water.

Gilmore Again!

There was a good article in Sunday’s Washington Post about the renewed focus on the impact of the car tax on the Virginia budget. While there is a move to limit the fiscal impact of former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s irresponsible election ploy, success might put the car tax in play in the 2005 elections. The article even suggests a possible Gilmore candidacy to regain the state’s top post.

With the effective analysis of the political situation, the article can’t help do what seemingly most Post articles about taxes do: quote James Parmelee. Never mind that his statement makes no sense, The Post quotes him for the 108th time since the beginning of 2002, twice last week alone.

Virginia News

In the budget dispute, will Democrats be “pivotal”?

Or are they on the wrong side of the limb?

Gov. Mark Warner doesn’t want the eventual Senate bill to go to conference committee.

On his radio talk show on WRVA in Richmond, Warner also said he wants a budget approved so he can talk about something else: “We’ll be talking about that we have a budget, that we’ve solved our state’s finances, that we can get back to things like higher ed, transportation and the social hot button issues.”

Yet, “I would still urge that transportation be part of the final compromise,” he said. “But I’ve got to be honest with the caller. There’s not a lot of discussion between the negotiators at this point about transportation.”

Nor is there much in the House budget for higher ed. We can talk about something else but we won’t have any money to do anything about it, except count the potholes on I-95.

In a column in the Hampton Roads Daily Press, a couple of staffers at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform write about the no new tax pledge that they have lawmakers sign.

The pledge is a commitment made to the people of the candidate’s or incumbent’s district and state. It is a definitive statement of those standing for election or in office of who or what will be the priority for the duration of their tenure.

Will the official vote for the big-spending interests or will he or she vote for the hard-working families and businesses that pay the taxes?

We can disagree about taxes, but framing it as “big spending interests” and “hard-working families” is disingenuous.

Continuing, they write:

Says California assemblyman Ray Haynes: “I signed the taxpayer protection pledge for two reasons: a) to announce to the world my intention to vote against all tax increases all the time; and b) to grant to any who may wish a public promise to which I would be accountable.”

As [such] statements by pledge signers clearly show, they are not only aware of the accountability side of the pledge; this factor is part of the reason for which they sign the pledge. Thus, they do not feel handcuffed by having signed the pledge, but in fact freed from certain pressures. Pledge signers are also informed about the fact that the pledge binds them to their commitment to their constituents not only for the election year, but for the duration of their tenure in the body to which they were elected.

So for the rest of their political careers they will never raise taxes. Something about consistency and hobgoblins comes to mind. Do we really want politicians who are so dogmatic that they envision no circumstance in their political life under which they may have a different view? About the only “pressure” I can see that they are “freed from” is the pressure to think.

Here’s a fix for school budget shortfalls: Charge students.

$20 per year for middle and high school students involved in sports and other after-school activities. The money would help offset coach stipends and Virginia High School League fees.

Also under consideration is a $4,000 tuition rate for each foreign exchange student. Right now, they pay nothing.

The plan also calls for increasing the student parking fee from $40 to $60, the “behind-the-wheel” driver’s education cost from $115 to $200 and a high school computer supplies fee from $5 to $10.

Those who attend the Regional Alternative High School–a program for area students who may have been expelled–could also start paying $35 a day in tuition.

The Washington Post calls the new Board of Supervisors “Loudoun-Wreckers.”

Quotes of the Day
“The Democrats are in play, buddy,” Moran said. “It feels good. I could get used to this.”
-Del. Brian Moran (D-Alexandria)

saslaw“We can’t, at least from my standpoint, repeal the estate tax on the one hand and impose the sales tax, which falls heaviest on the low-end people, without providing some other form of equity.”
-Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax)