Politics & Policy

Virginia Is For Taxers

"Conservatives" tax and spend in the Old Dominion.

In 2003, John Chichester ran for state senate by assuring Virginians: “You can always count on me to support our shared Republican principles of smaller government [and] lower taxes.”

That was then.

Less than a year later, Chichester, who serves as chairman of the senate’s finance committee, sponsored a bill that promised to raise Virginia’s taxes by nearly $4 billion over two years. (The bill that eventually passed the senate is still over $1 billion more than the plan proposed by the Democratic governor; today the senate considers the slimmer house version of the budget, which raises taxes $747 million.)

As if he weren’t enough, Chichester is hardly alone. Thirteen politicians who signed a pledge organized by Americans for Tax Reform, swearing “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes,” are this year voting for tax increases. Republicans Tommy Norment and Russell Potts both veered right during their primaries last year, with Norment billing himself as “one of Virginia’s leading tax fighters” and Potts emphasizing the 55 times he’d voted against tax cuts. Potts even called challenger Mark Tate a liar for suggesting that Potts planned to support a major tax increase this year. If he’s not a liar, he’s a flip-flopper. Both Potts and Norment were quick to join Chichester in outdoing Governor Warner’s $1 billion spending plan.

Governor Warner is no promise-keeper either. Despite campaigning on low taxes in the 2001 election, he is now in the midst of his second tax-increase push. And he knows the people of Virginia are not with him.

Back in 2001, Warner challenged his opponent, Mark Earley: “Why don’t you trust the people?” Warner said, “I would trust the voters in Northern Virginia to vote on a referendum to decide whether they wanted to increase the sales tax.”

Not so now. Warner spokesman Ellen Qualls, tells NRO, “It’s impractical to think you can have a referendum.” That’s not a shock, it’s practical, from his vantage point-the people aren’t with him. Virginia voters have consistently opposed tax increases. Referendums on increasing the sales tax were put on the ballots in two of Virginia’s most populous voting districts last year. Though tax proponents outspent anti-tax activists by ten to one, Virginians voted against the increase by margins of 65 percent to 37 percent in Hampton Roads, and 55 percent to 45 percent in Northern Virginia.

Though, under Warner, the budget has grown by $2.5 billion, tax-increase proponents are quick to point out that the general fund–the portion of the budget funded by income and sales tax–has only grown by two-tenths of one percent in the past four years. Yes, that’s true, but according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the non-general fund grew a hefty 41 percent between 1998 and 2001.

Politicians who promise fiscal responsibility and deliver the opposite undercut politicians who run for office according to their principles. More important, they are doing a disservice to Virginians. As Warner said in 2001, “Politics as usual created the budget mess in Richmond this year. The old style of politics of saying anything to get elected is not what we need.”

If consistency and principle aren’t concerns, Virginia Republicans ought to consider Virginians’ wallets. Voters know them as the tax-and-spenders they are, regardless of the conservative cloaks they throw on to try to cover their records.

Meghan Keane is a National Review editorial associate.

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