May 9, 2013

LIKE MITT ROMNEY, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II wants to cut taxes — by a lot. Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, promises this would not reduce government revenues by a dime, since he would also eliminate significant tax loopholes and deductions. And like Mr. Romney, Mr. Cuccinelli adamantly refuses to identify these loopholes and deductions.

Why would Mr. Cuccinelli expect Virginians to fall for this?

Mr. Cuccinelli unveiled his plan at a yogurt shop, claiming it would help such businesses grow faster by cutting their taxes. More likely, it would starve the state of the resources it needs to fund public schools, state colleges and universities, public safety, mental health programs and state parks. Somehow, he would slash $1.4 billion in taxes — about 8 percent of the state’s annual tax collections — but hold revenue steady. It’s economics reduced to magic.

The plan’s conceit is that by cutting taxes, it would attract businesses to Virginia and help them grow faster. But what businesses, and which employees, would be content in a state that starves its schools, infrastructure and social services of resources?

Already, Virginia’s tax code is highly regressive. The personal income tax, which accounts for about two-thirds of state revenue, is a flat 5.75 percent for everyone making more than $17,000 a year. For the sake of fairness, the wealthiest Virginians should be asked to do more. By cutting personal income taxes, Mr. Cuccinelli would ask them to do less.

His proposal assumes that Virginians are overtaxed and in need of relief. In fact, Virginia is one of the wealthiest and most frugal states in the country. Its median income ranks eighth nationally, but state outlays on a range of functions are average or below average. On public and higher education, for instance, Virginia’s per capita spending ranks 38th nationally. On health care, its per capita spending ranks 40th.

Unsurprisingly, leaders of some of the state’s largest jurisdictions saw Mr. Cuccinelli’s blueprint as a recipe for higher property taxes, which are imposed at the local level. How else would localities compensate for the loss in state revenue that directly supports public schools?

The Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe, a wealthy businessman and fundraiser, tried to preempt Mr. Cuccinelli by announcing his own, more modest, cuts to a handful of local taxes. Mr. McAuliffe played the same game — pledging the cuts would be revenue-neutral without explaining how — but on a more modest scale. For sheer gall, Mr. Cuccinelli’s plan takes the cake.