Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Last Word on the Recent Tax Debates

I have read with great interest the recent posts by former Senator Marty Williams and DJ McGuire at the Right Wing Liberal and I’ve come to this conclusion. Both sides made serious mistakes that cost our Party the majority in the State Senate.

I plan for this to be the last time I comment on this subject as I think we very much need to move on and look to the future as opposed to obsessing over the past.

The Senate leadership was wrong to create an environment where it was OK to raise taxes. They gave the impression that they never really saw a tax they didn’t like and that was a huge mistake. In 2004, Governor Warner proposed a tax increase. Not only did the Senate support it, but they went bigger. At one point, the Senate proposal was 3 times what Warner wanted. For the record, I opposed both Warner’s and the Senate’s tax increases. We were in an economic recovery and would soon have surplus dollars—the absolute wrong time to start talking about tax increases. There was a need for more transportation dollars, but not a general fund increase, which is what ultimately passed. It was a mistake to leave transportation on the table in 2004.

In 2006, we considered tax increases to pay for a new transportation plan. With surpluses in the backdrop, this was again the wrong approach. I actually proposed returning all surplus dollars to the taxpayers so that issue would be off the table when we were talking about transportation. Nobody listened.

In 2007, we made another attempt to address the transportation issue. HB 3202 was Frankenstein’s monster—debt, regional taxing authorities, and abuser fees—not real reform.

We didn’t need a general fund infusion like the one we got in 2004. I felt strongly that the economic recovery would take care of the GF problem. I was right.

We did need to shift revenue to transportation and consider incremental fee increases—this was when gas was $1.70 a gallon. Granted, a much harder sell now. We needed to reform the system and move decision making out of Richmond and back down to the local level.

OK. Now that I’ve beat up the Senate, let me agree with Marty Williams on a few points. The primary challenges seriously weakened our position in 2007. Those 5 races cost millions of dollars. That’s money that could have been used to defend incumbents and challenge Democrats. I believe that Nick Rerras could have been saved had he had more money. My own seat and Marty’s would likely not have been targeted by the Democrats had they not become open. Those open seats costs hundreds of thousands of extra dollars.

The Democrat candidate in the 22nd District made several comments to me personally that he had no hope of knocking me off. But he knew he had a much better chance against Ralph Smith in the open seat. And he was right. He was able to raise around $750,000 and came within 700 votes of winning in a 60/40 Republican district.

As a party, we were completely focused on defeating our own incumbents and defending seats. The Democrats were on the offensive. We all know the end result.

So, was the Senate leadership wrong for creating a pattern of tax increases? Yes. Did this encourage the primary challenges? Absolutely. Did the primary challenges cost us the majority? I have no doubt that they did. And if you knock off an incumbent you better be damned sure you can hold the seat against the opposition—Stall wasn’t able to do that. If you stage a coup, you better bring enough guns!

So what do we take from all this? I think both sides have to admit they made some mistakes and that the opposing side has some legitimate arguments. Once that’s done, we can look to the future. We can put this mess behind us, find the areas on which we agree, and go beat some Democrats!

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