If there’s any good news from the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly, it’s that the hard right’s stranglehold on taxation has been broken. Legislators can start acting like responsible adults once again instead of dogmatic shills and spoiled children.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the General Assembly finally found a way to raise badly needed money for transportation, although it came via a very bad law that ties itself up like a contortionist to raise revenue when all that needed to be done was to simply raise the gasoline tax for the first time in 26 years.
The Democrats were right to strong-arm McDonnell into going along with expanding Medicaid. It would have been ridiculous for Virginia to hold its stubborn head high and deny thousands of needy people medical assistance so conservatives could feel good about some ludicrous oath from Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist that they may have recited at one point to get votes. The feds will pay for the expansion until 2016, and after that for 90 percent of it. Imagine a well-fed delegate saying, “No, you poor person can’t have health care because it is doctrinally impure!”
The upshot is that we need to ignore the Norquists, the Tea Party types and their ilk and get on with the serious business of running the state and the country. The sequestration debacle is more than embarrassing for its stupidity, and its impact on Virginia will be profound.
The state likewise needs to get beyond any number of pitfalls in its Constitution, such as preventing regions from levying taxes. As commenters Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman point out in their bipartisan opinion in today’s Post, the state Constitution may prevent Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads from assessing taxes from their residents to help pay for their extra-clogged roads. The legal reasoning dates back to Thomas Jefferson, but it is no longer the 18th century and the problem could easily be fixed with an amendment.
The bottom line is that if you want fixed roads, good schools and a decent place to live, you have to pay for them through taxes. Simple. You can’t depend on private industry to see you through, especially not when a good chunk of it in the Old Dominion is actually federal government money that’s about to be cut off in a big way. You can’t do it through little shell games with public private partnerships to build roads you often do not need. And you just can’t kick the can to younger generations so you can remain holy.
In other words, it is high time to get beyond the obsessive clarion calls to cut budgets. We get it. We’ve been spending too much and need to watch it. But we need to be start making smart spending choices that get cash moving and tax revenue growing. You don’t get there by starving the patient or denying him blood. That’s not voodoo economics; it’s vampire economics.
As for McDonnell, well, he’s finally got his legacy. Unlike what you might read on the Post’s cheerful editorial page, it sure looks pretty messy to me. He did manage to get more money for roads, but he did through a Rube Goldberg contraption of taxation. Poor people will end up paying more for everyday goods, even if they don’t own cars. Green-conscious drivers who want to help preserve the earth by buying an alternative-fuel vehicle will be punished with a $100 annual fee.
McDonnell failed to get legacies through privatizing state alcohol stores or erecting offshore oil rigs. Last year, the legislature got so out of control with social conservative, anti-woman nonsense — another Tea Party influence — that Virginia ended up starring on national Snark TV. That cost McDonnell a hell of a lot, namely any chance to get the vice presidential nomination.