In the closing scenes of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," the evil antagonist Elsa is so desperate to reach the Holy Grail that she slips out of Jones's hands and plunges to her death.
Sounds a lot like some Northern Virginia politicians.
The ink wasn't dry on the recent state tax increase before local leaders were cheering the "new" money coming into Fairfax County. Having fought for the tax increase, they had little choice. But as details unfold, it's increasingly clear that what we pay for that new revenue is more than we receive.
The tax increase is merely a huge shift of money, taxing Northern Virginians (particularly Fairfax but also high-growth areas like Prince William County) and sending their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.
Fairfax taxpayers, for example, will pay some $61 million more in sales taxes dedicated to education over the next two years but get back only about $37 million in additional state aid. Most of the same politicians campaigning last year on a platform of "getting our fair share" have settled for a plan sending more money downstate.
Instead of distributing funds on the basis of where the sales tax is paid ($61 million) or on the basis of school-age population ($53 million), which is how sales tax funds are typically distributed, the formula slashes Fairfax's share dramatically.
Penalizing economic growth is also evident in the car tax freeze. Because the state's reimbursement to localities will remain constant for each locality, the freeze penalizes areas that are growing or whose residents can afford to purchase new, more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. In Fairfax, it's estimated that the state's share of the car tax reimbursement will drop dramatically as older cars are replaced -- from 70 percent to 50 percent over the next couple of years. On a $20,000 car, that translates to another $500 in taxes.
Freezing the car tax is exactly what a lot of Northern Virginia politicians said they wanted because it was "too expensive." But now that they've got it, they are forced to read the fine print on the bargain they demanded, and it's a bad deal for their constituents.
Worse, what began as a $1.2 billion tax increase proposed by Gov. Warner has now been "recalculated" by the state into an increase of anywhere from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion. That's several hundred million dollars more than the governor said was needed to "meet the needs of the commonwealth" when the debate started.
If that's true -- and if the budget figures truly weren't jury-rigged in the first place -- then why not return part of the surplus to the taxpayers who pay so much in the first place?
Fairfax alone pays 27 percent of Virginia's income taxes but gets only 7.4 percent of all education funding. Returning our "fair share" -- in the form of a tax rebate or dedicated transportation funding -- would help persuade a lot of Northern Virginians that those in public office aren't always willing to reach for the Holy Grail at any cost. The Republican-controlled General Assembly recently approved a $1.36 billion tax increase, a victory for Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who has been traveling throughout the state touting the plan's benefits. Chris Braunlich, left, vice president of the Springfield-based Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, raises questions about the plan. Braunlich is a former member of the Fairfax County School Board who lost a bid for state Senate last fall.