Adventures in Warnerland: PART III
by Steven Sisson
Tweedledum Hall and Tweedledee Howell
"Then you'd better not fight today," said Mark Warner, thinking it a good opportunity to pass a tax-reform plan.
"We must have a bit of a fight, but I don't care about going on long," said Tweedledum Hall.
"What's the time now?"
Tweedledee Howell looked at his watch, and said "half-past four."
"Let's fight till six, and then have dinner," said Tweedledum Hall.
"Very well," the other said, rather sadly. "And the governor can watch us - only you'd better not come very close," he added. "I generally hit everything I can see - when I get really excited."
"And I hit everything within reach," cried Tweedledum Hall, "whether I can see it or not!"
There is an old saying that goes like this, "Politics are played in the House, but law is made in the Senate."
Enter the House of Delegates, where Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, will replay his passion play of right-wing social agenda from the 2003 session. Last year, it was 31 pro-life bills and 33 gun bills, a Pledge of Alliance controversy, the ever-popular pro-life state license plates - and don't forget about the civil liberties of Virginia citizens who refuse to wear seat belts.
This year, the session promises the likes of legislation concerning banning same-sex marriages, a fetal-homicide law, the banning of the dispensation of emergency contraceptives at universities, the dismantling of the Texas court ruling on the sodomy law and ... the burning bush on top of Mount Zion question of the day: Why can't we display the Ten Commandments in our government buildings?
No wonder we have a fiscal crisis; we have an identity crisis.
The conservative majority in the House of Delegates will without doubt cloud any attempt to pass either Warner's version or the moderate-Republican tax plan. The conservative members are well versed in this hot-button political rhetoric. Any discussion about excellence in education, progress on transportation, protection of our natural resources and economic development will be secondary concerns to an agenda that basically has shut down state government for the past decade.
But again, who's counting?
The liberal-minded House will have their day in the sun as well. After all, our liberal General Assembly members are the teachers, while the conservative members are only students of the game. When it comes to social engineering and behavioral modification of the public concerning government mandates and laws, the liberal Democrats wrote the book.
The public can almost count on a multitude of left-wing bills that will attempt to restrict gun use, promote alternative lifestyles, ban guns, advocate more abortion rights, implement gun control and shove extremist environmental legislation in the face of rural Virginia.
It's enough to choke any yellow dog's face blue.
It just proves that the pathway is perpetual with both parties. And after all, the public loves to watch a good fight and loves to complain about bad government.
We get what we pay for. Could you pass the popcorn, please?
Mark Warner's Evidence
"No, no!" said Kate, the GOP Queen. "Sentence first - verdict afterwards."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Mark Warner loudly. "The idea of having the sentence first!"
"Hold your tongue!" said Kate, the GOP Queen, turning purple.
"I won't!" said Mark Warner.
"Off with his head!" the GOP Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
"Who cares for you?" said Mark Warner, (he had grown to his full size by this time.)
"Republicans are nothing but a pack of cards!'"
How did tax reform evolved into a series of tax cuts and increases? Examine the Warner tax plan closely; we find plans to modernize the tax system, but we also find cuts with the 100-percent elimination of the car tax and a partial elimination of the estate tax along with a modest food-tax repeal in the plan.
Virginia faces real debt problems, which are based on the campaign promises of the car-tax repeal. Then why are we talking more tax cuts? In the past election, Warner ridiculed General Assembly candidates for signing the No Tax Pledge, but now he is advocating more tax cuts during a fiscal crisis.
If the governor is so worried about the Moody AAA bond rating, how can he propose a decrease in state revenue with the car-tax repeal and other tax cuts? Warner's tax plan will never be able to fully fund Virginia's educational needs - K-12 or college - and it does not address the deepening girth in state Medicaid funding, or restore the rainy-day fund.
Virginia leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, must become bold and innovative in these hard fiscal times and actually stand for an issue - which is based on fiscal responsibility. Let's quit fooling ourselves with these political gimmicks and catch-phrases like tax cuts, tax reform, tax equity and tax fairness.
The Warner tax plan is a $1 billion tax increase.
And the facts are: Mark Warner needs to pay off the car tax repeal - along with a new promise to eliminate the estate tax and reduce the food-sales tax as well. The governor campaigned on a promise to complete the phase-out of the property tax on the value of cars and trucks. And Mr. Warner needs about $1 billion to pay that bill.
In order to make the car tax go away as a political issue, Warner must replace that missing revenue stream. He has threatened a special session unless the legislators pass a tax increase.
Are we dealing with a full deck of cards? Evidently not.
Through the Looking Glass
To the Looking-Glass world it was Mark Warner that said,
"I've a scepter in hand, I've a crown on my head;
"Let the Looking-Glass creatures, whatever they be,
"Come and dine with the Republicans, the Democrats and me."
If Mark Warner challenges incumbent U.S. Sen. George Allen in a 2006 senatorial contest, the elimination of the car tax, estate tax and reduction on the sales tax on food might assist his campaign. But how can he hang the Democratic Party out to dry by making us the party that raised taxes $1 billion so that the Virginia GOP can also take credit for cutting the car, estate and food-sales tax?
What Democrat will be able to run for state office in 2005 without the albatross of tax increases tied around their neck? Statewide Democrats would be smart to wash their hands of this fairy-tale tax plan and start advocating real budget reform in the Commonwealth. Because looming large on the horizon are those unfunded mandates we heard so much about during the past election.
Tax cuts are not responsible leadership - but budget reform is.
If the state is underfunding the Standards of Quality, and the last count was $1 billion, and not providing adequate funding for 20,000 positions in public education deemed essential by localities, exactly how is the state proposing to fund the $1 billion state revenue gap? The Warner and Chichester revenue shell game with the car-tax refund is nothing more than intellectual deceit with the public concerning a tax-reform plan.
To say that Virginians will be paying 65-percent less is just not right. The only thing that is antiquated in this tax proposal is the election promise to eliminate the car tax and cut other taxes. The Warner tax plan will affect lower- to middle-income the greatest and increase their tax burden. The plan will reduce their purchasing power in the marketplace. It will hurt the economy and job market as well.
Rural Virginia will again suffer the most with Warner's tax plan. Statistically, the last of the car tax is skewed 30 percent against poorer areas of the state, like the Shenandoah Valley. Most Virginians can expect higher future property taxes, most at double-digit rates, in order to pay for the required social services and education mandates.
How tax fair is that?
The voting public across America is becoming increasing tired of being blamed for the mismanagement of government. Virginia politicians who want to increase the tax burden are not solving long-term problems of dealing with state government spending and the biennial budget process. There are lessons to be learned from the California fiscal crises and recent special election that ousted the incumbent governor.
If Gov. Mark Warner stood in front of the Looking Glass long enough, he might see California's ex-Gov. Gray Davis' reflection staring back at him.
He might wake up and learn something as well.
In a Warnerland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die;
Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden gleam-
Life, what is it but a dream?