OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 :::

Apples, Oranges, Kiwi...

Rob Whitney very kindly sent me the clips from his exchange a couple of weeks back with the Daily Press. In their editorial, the paper said, among other things:

Is Virginia public spending "out of control," as a new broadcast ad by the Prosperity group claims?

There are those who would take that view regardless of the actual dollar amounts involved. They are less interested in arguing over outlays than they are purposes. Get government out of more things and it will spend less.

People who make that argument are undoubtedly correct, but their problem is with democracy more than the state budget. State spending generally runs in accordance with public wishes, and in a conservatively inclined place like Virginia, it's hard to get state backing for purposes that are not broadly supported.

This, in part, is quite true. Personally, I care less about dollar amounts in the state's ledger than where the money goes. And I am one of those people (curse me, curse me twice) who believes that unless legislators, governors and their assorted hangers-on can point to the constitutional provision giving them the authority to create and then fund certain programs, then said programs and, of necessity, their appropriations should be eliminated (this is one of the reasons why I have returned so often to the legislature's handing out of grants to private charities...the constitution specifically prohibits them from doing much of what they propose).

But from this point, the DP started running some numbers. They found, basically, that compared to other states, Virginia is among the most miserly.

I have no problem with that, either. I prefer Virginia either remain that way or, even better, spend less. My problem is when politicians say that Virginia's taxes and spending can rise as much as they propose, and still be less than oh, say, Maryland. That, too, is no badge of honor -- it is merely an excuse clothed in hope than no one will notice their paychecks getting thinner, while state coffers continue to grow.

Rob was given the opportunity to respond, and he notes that the DP has made some rather selective uses of statistics:

But rather than taking a serious look at common sense solutions for solving Virginia's transportation woes, tax-hike proponents have argued that Virginia is, after all, a low-tax state. Piling on a little more won't hurt.

This line of thinking is downright foolhardy, because although Virginia may still have a below-the-national-average tax burden, it isn't the low-tax state it once was. The so-called "facts" cited by the Daily Press that peg Virginia's tax burden rank at 45th and 49th are from Fiscal Year 2002. This was of course before a $1.4 billion dollar tax increase, which was the largest tax increase in the Commonwealth's history -- despite claims to the contrary. In addition to the $1.4 billion tax increase, many Virginians were hit by skyrocketing property taxes due to out of control assessments earlier this decade.

Lies, damned lies and statistics. In the larger scheme of things, Virginia is a low tax state compared to Maryland or Massachusetts or New York. But, as Rob says, the gap is narrowing. And that is cause for concern -- at least for those of us who truly believe in a government that is small in size, unintrusive in intent and limited in power.

There's damned few of us left.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 2/28/2006 0 comments


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