A May 15 article in the Metro section gave an incorrect date for when a Virginia sales tax increase takes effect. The state sales tax will rise to 5 percent effective Sept. 1. (Published 5/17/04)
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has begun a series of appearances across the state designed to publicize the results of his five-month tax and budget battle and highlight the new money that will flow into communities.
Throughout the legislative session that ended last week, Warner bounced around the state, repeatedly giving a PowerPoint slide show that he said demonstrated the dire need for tax increases to help pay for critical services. He gave the presentation 46 times to more than 4,000 people, his aides said.
Now, Warner is trying to play down the $1.5 billion in tax increases adopted by the legislature last month. In a new PowerPoint presentation, the Democratic governor focuses on the new spending and what he says are historic tax reforms that will make the tax code fairer.
"Most Virginians probably have a vague sense that their taxes are going up. But do they know their income taxes are going down?" said Ellen Qualls, the governor's press secretary. "Do they know the food tax cut means their grocery bills will be cheaper?"
The legislature this month passed a $60 billion budget that adds more than $1.5 billion to the state's treasury over two years. The state sales tax will rise to 5 percent, effective July 1, and the state's tax on cigarettes will increase to 30 cents a pack. Taxes on income and groceries will be cut, and some corporate tax breaks will end. Taxes on deeds will go up. The state's car-tax relief program will be frozen.
Meanwhile, public schools will get $1.5 billion more. Nursing homes and hospitals will receive an additional $1 billion. Police and sheriff's deputies will get raises. Spending on colleges and universities will increase by $275 million.
Qualls said the governor wants to thank the people who attended town hall meetings during the budget impasse to urge lawmakers to agree on a budget. Political observers in Richmond have said they believe those town hall meetings were a key turning point, after which some Republican members of the House agreed to support a half-cent increase in the sales tax.
Warner also hopes to counter information being distributed by some lawmakers who opposed the tax increases, Qualls said. In some cases, those lawmakers are taking credit for the spending in the budget even though they strenuously opposed the tax increases that made that possible, she said.
"There are some legislators who are being egregiously hypocritical," she said. "There is a need for a vigorous information campaign to guard against that."
On Monday, Warner traveled to Roanoke to tout the benefits of his plan to educators, law enforcement officers, health care advocates and community leaders. On Friday, he gave a similar speech at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
In the coming days, he is scheduled to appear in Hampton Roads, Radford and Arlington.
Some anti-tax activists who opposed Warner's push for tax increases said they were insulted by Warner's PR efforts.
"For him to take a victory lap, paid for by us, the taxpayers, is insulting and offensive," said James Parmelee, the president of an anti-tax organization. "What does he have to celebrate? In the end, we had a tax increase. Yee-haw. Let's go celebrate."
Parmelee said his group is trying to counter Warner's message. Parmelee is sending newsletters and e-mails to his network of members and others, stressing the size of the tax increase and Warner's promise during his 2001 campaign that he would not raise taxes.
"You have a governor who wasn't courageous enough to push for what he wanted before the election and then pulled a fast one," Parmelee said.
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who opposed the final tax plan and voted against the state budget, said he is not offended by Warner's new statewide tour.
"It's just like when I played Springfield youth soccer," he said. "After the game's over, everyone lines up and says, 'Good game, good game, good game.' [Warner] accomplished something I disagreed with. But you've got to give him a high-five and say, 'Good game.' "
Still, Albo said he will take several steps to counter Warner's message and to explain his votes to his constituents.
He said he will send a letter to all 1,358 people who wrote or e-mailed him during the session.
And sometime this summer, Albo said, he will mail out a newsletter that explains his position. In it, he will argue that much of the money raised by the tax increases will be going to places outside Fairfax County because of education funding formulas that favor poor, rural parts of the state.
"What I am trying to highlight, whether you agree or disagree about whether we needed new revenue, is that I honestly believe this is a complete and utter rip-off for Fairfax County," Albo said.
Warner gives an update on the tax reform and budget package at an event at Virginia Commonwealth University.