It’s become quite obvious in the past few years that, in Virginia, the Republican party is no longer the party of business. That role has been taken over by Democrats, and it seems that few Democrats and even fewer Republicans yet realize that.
State Republicans are completely opposed to any sort of tax increase, ever, under any circumstances. Not only that, but they favor cutting taxes. This in the face of massive deficits created by then-governor Jim Gilmore (R) when he eliminated the car tax without providing for a compensatory source of revenue. As a result, Governor Mark Warner (D) has spent the first two years of his term cutting services to the bone, with only K-12 education remaining unscathed. Everything else got, at a minimum, a 12% reduction, across the board. Entire boards, committees, and state organizations have been eliminated. Others have been folded into similar, existing groups. Governor Warner has done, by any estimation, an extremely impressive job of patching up the budget without raising taxes.
The time has come to raise taxes, as should be blindingly obvious. There’s simply nothing left to cut. More important, the current levels of cuts have caused many Virginia services to wither. Higher education is in a horrible, horrible state — overcrowding has made a college education a severely-devalued thing in these parts. VDOT has received cuts that are preventing them from doing anything more than the crudest of maintenance, just in time for the need to replace an unprecedented number of roads, a result of a large amount of paving done several decades ago that’s all now reaching its end of life. Prison overcrowding has gotten ridiculous — the state is now forcing localities to house prisoners in jails, which are only intended for short-term housing. This means that localities are footing the bill for state prisoners, and they’re not being reimbursed.
The result of all of this is that Virginia is becoming a terrible environment for business. So bad, in fact, that the Virginia Chamber of Commerce (chambers are notoriously Republican) intends to endorse Gov. Warner’s new tax-hike proposal against the desperate pleas of prominent Republicans. They’ve realized that the Republican party is simply unable to maintain the state in a manner that is fit for habitation. Not only that, but they have offered no viable alternatives. They just make declarations like Speaker of the House William Howell: “You can’t tax your way to prosperity. The message is clear: we’ve got to get a handle on our costs.” “We’ve got to get a handle on our costs” is, of course, code for “I don’t have the faintest idea of how the budget works.” The state Republican Party can only offer vague accusations:
STATEMENT OF RPV CHAIRMAN KATE OBENSHAIN GRIFFIN–Regarding Governor Warner’s State of the Commonwealth Address
RICHMOND — The focus of the 2004 General Assembly Session will clearly be on budget and tax policy. The Republican Party of Virginia firmly believes we must keep taxes low to allow for the economy to expand and for more jobs to be created.
Governor Warner and some legislators have outlined tax plans that include massive tax increases to which many Virginians will be opposed. Elected leaders have a solemn duty to keep their word with their constituents and Mark Warner has broken his trust with the people of Virginia by raising our taxes. At no time have Virginians voiced a mandate that massive tax increases are to be considered as a viable option to balancing the budget.
As Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, I will work tirelessly to ensure that our Republican principles are well represented in this ongoing debate.
Warner never promised not to raise taxes, which is why this press release never states that he did, only implies it. Obenshain offers no alternatives here. She simply says that taxes must not be raised.
The Chamber has gotten wise to the Republicans, and that’s why they’re jumping ship. If the state Democratic party touts this move and continues to push the Democrats’ business agenda, and if Warner’s budget passes relatively unscathed, the Republicans will lose their ill-retained title of the party of business as the Democrats assume their new position, leaving the Republicans holding their collective hat.
See “A Governor’s Hard Sell: Higher Taxes in Virginia” in today’s New York Times for more.