A Potentially Special Session: Can Common Sense Prevail?

Presiding officers of both legislative chambers gaveled Members into Special Session at Noon on March 27th with a single purpose in mind, to pass the 2006-2008 state budget. Along with my colleagues, I am willing to remain in Richmond to see that a common sense measure is passed. To demonstrate my dedication to the district I have forgone my per diem or special daily wage for this special session.

Many of your readers will no doubt be familiar with the current focus of the latest appropriations debate: whether or not to raise taxes $1 billion dollars for transportation in a year of major budget surpluses and an ever growing state economy currently running at a 6-7% clip. As the Delegate from the 97th District, which includes parts of 6 counties and all of New Kent including over 70,000 residents, I believe that attempts to raise your taxes this year are bad for Virginia.

For 60 days this year during the Assembly’s regular session legislators from across this Commonwealth debated extensively and made good faith efforts to develop a common sense approach to funding state government and their subsidiaries. Unfortunately, the Senate of Virginia and the House of Delegates failed to reach a compromise as worldviews collided. The Senate, in its institutional decadence, continues to be lead by individuals who conspired in 2004 with then Governor Warner to spearhead the largest tax increase in Virginia history all in the name of “saving the state’s AAA bond rating.” At the time scare tactics like this had their effect but now in hindsight this effort is clearly viewed as unnecessary due to the state’s major surplus. Virginia currently enjoys a surplus of approximately $1.4 billion. Now the same gang is out to convince you that saving transportation necessitates the creation of “long term sustainable source of revenue” a.k.a. permanent tax increases. Please know that this too is a red herring.

Pro-taxers who claim solutions for state-wide transportation problems mean that certain areas, like ours, would be paying for the road needs of others not willing to help themselves. Remember back to 2002 where regional sales tax referenda for transportation needs in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads failed at the ballot box. I agree that we should look at helping these regions because they represent major economic hubs but funding should not based on raiding the pocket books and wallets of the hard working people of our district. The more reasonable answer is the House plan which proposes to use some of the surplus dollars as well as using the state’s bond rating for major projects. The people have spoken once and are speaking again against new taxes for transportation and in favor of the common sense approach of the House budget, formerly House Bill 30 and now House Bill 5002.

Make no mistake; the current Governor is dead set on raising taxes in spite of candidate Kaine’s promises. He has embarked on an expensive marketing and public relations campaign to misconstrue the House plan. During his Inaugural Address, Governor Kaine stated that he would 'lead boldly, [and] manage wisely' and he pledged 'that we will always remember that what government spends is not its money. It's your money.' I hope you decide to remind him of that fact.

You need to have all of the facts. First, the House budget fully funds core services such as public and higher education, public safety, health care, mental health, and natural resources. Moreover, it represents an approximate 12% increase from the final budget offered by Gov. Warner in December 2005. The current House budget is at least $75.3 billion and will increase state spending by another 22.8 %. Did you know that in the past decade, public-school enrollment rose 10% while inflation-adjusted direct state aid to education rose 42%? The question is when enough is enough. The simple answer to some is never and certainly not this year. As a representative sworn to uphold the Constitution of Virginia I am bound to consider and address the needs of the people but not at their own peril.

Tax increases proposed by the Senate and Governor do not solve anything and may actually lead to paying more for concrete and asphalt and getting less in return. In some districts, if you take the six-year plan and divide it by the total cost in some cases one new mile of road may cost up to a million dollars. Again tax increases are not necessary and as opposed to 2004, there is NO threat to the state's bond rating, which is a bond rating that the Senate negotiators are now unwilling to use as a way to finance upgrades to our infrastructure.

I repeat. Tax increases are not necessary. Did you know that transportation has claimed 12 cents of every new state dollar in the past decade? This is an amazing statistic. In the revived House budget, HB 5002, House Republicans, again in good faith, have agreed to raise another $500 million for transportation based on abuser fees and redirected recordation taxes already levied. This infusion of new dollars builds upon the $850 million in new transportation funding made last Session at the time it was the largest infusion of new funding in 20 years. These figures show that common sense is at work.

Even in the past two weeks, House negotiators made two concessions which have been rejected by the Senate counterparts. The first was a budget with no debt service and no tax increase and the other was a budget omitting transportation thus creating a reserve transportation fund that will be negotiated separately at a later date so we can adopt a biennial budget. It is now unmistakable that the Senate negotiators and the Governor are holding the budget process hostage because of their insistence on the great crisis besetting Virginia causing the need for a higher gas tax and grantor's tax among other items to fund $1 billion more dollars for transportation.

As I conclude this brief report, the House of Delegates just passed the “caboose” bill which completes the current budget cycle and preserves funding for teachers, local law enforcement and transportation projects. I am hopeful that the Senate leadership and Governor will not try to hold this important measure captive and withhold necessary funding for groups such as these, as they hope to raise your taxes.

Please feel fee to contact my office at 804-698-1097 or at DelCPeace@house.state.va.us to share with me your thoughts on this process as those of us in Richmond continue to defend your interests and represent your family’s pocket-book.

Click Here to see the Budget Bill: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?062+sum+HB5002