“Tim Kaine: Four years as governor, billions in proposed tax increases, bitter debates nearly shutting down state government, tax hikes for anyone earning as little as 17 thousand a year. And now: ‘I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.’”
-- Ad from the George Allen campaign
This column follows up on our examination of an ad from Timothy Kaine, who is battling fellow political veteran George Allen in a Virginia Senate race that could help Democrats maintain their majority in that chamber of Congress or give Republicans one of the seats they need to shift the balance.
In this ad, Allen resorts to his go-to message of recent weeks: Timothy Kaine loves taxes. That line of attack started to gain traction after Kaine said during a debate that he would be open to a proposal that would impose a minimum tax level for everyone.
Allen’s campaign seized on that comment to suggest Kaine is itching to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income voters. The Republican candidate even released a statement saying his opponent “announced he wants to raise taxes on everyone.” PolitiFact Virginia rated that claim false, noting that Kaine only said he was open to taxing everyone to some extent, not that he wants to raise taxes on all people.
Allen’s campaign got the debate comments right with this ad by letting Kaine speak for himself. Let’s see whether the rest of the claims are accurate.
As we did in our last column, we’ll begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.
Kaine served as mayor of Richmond, Va. from 1998 until 2001, as Virginia’s lieutenant governor from 2002 until 2006 and as governor from 2006 until 2010 -- Virginia restricts its governors to one term. He was also chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 until 2011.
Allen started his political career with the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served from 1983 until 1991. He then represented the Old Dominion State in Congress from 1991 until 1993 before becoming governor from 1994 until 1998. He later represented his state in the U.S. Senate from 2001 until 2007, serving one term before losing to Democrat Jim Webb in 2006.
“Tim Kaine: Four years as governor, billions in proposed tax increases … tax hikes for anyone earning as little as 17 thousand a year.”
A timeline of Kaine’s tenure as governor from the Richmond Times-Dispatch shows the Democratic candidate proposed raising taxes and fees by $3.7 billion during the first year of his administration to pay for transit programs over four years.
The Allen campaign pointed out that Kaine also proposed replacing the state’s unpopular car tax with a higher income tax during his final months in office in 2009. A Washington Post article noted that the increase would have meant “a hike in the income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 6.75 percent, for those earning more than $17,000, 60 percent of taxpayers” and about $1.9 billion in additional revenue.
So Kaine did indeed ask to raise taxes on residents “earning as little as 17 thousand a year.” But his overall budget in 2009 called for $2.3 billion in spending cuts on top of $1.9 billion in new revenue, which means he was willing to cut spending more than raising new revenue.
Furthermore, Kaine actually raised the income threshold for tax filing in 2007 from $7,000 to $11,950 for individuals and from $12,000 to $23,000 for couples, removing 140,000 low-income residents from the tax rolls, according to a March 2007 article in the Roanoke Times.
Finally, Kaine’s proposed 2009 income-tax never came to fruition, even though the wording of the ad suggests that it did. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is still in office, rejected that idea in favor of making deep cuts in “virtually every area of state responsibility” and by accelerating the collection of sales tax for one month, according to a Post report.
Kaine definitely proposed billions in tax hikes, but the legislature rejected them. And even though the Democratic candidate called for higher taxes on residents making as little as $17,000 per year, he approved a plan to free more low-income residents from paying income taxes at all.
Furthermore, a Richmond Times-Dispatch article noted that Virginia’s general fund actually shrank from $15.1 billion to $14.8 billion during Kaine’s tenure, marking the first time in decades that the budget contracted. So it’s not as though the Democratic candidate was a wild spender with a tax habit.
On balance, the tax claims from Allen’s ad earn Two Pinocchios.
“...bitter debates nearly shutting down state government.”
The Virginia General Assembly quickly found itself in a stalemate over transportation funding during Kaine’s first year in office after the Democratic governor proposed the $1 billion tax increase. State lawmakers debated the issue until June -- nearly resulting in a government shutdown -- before agreeing to a budget that punted the roads and transit matter to the next year, according to a report from the Post.
The legislature returned for a special session in September of that year, but they still couldn’t reach a deal. Kaine brought up the issue again in 2007 and managed to get Republicans on board in part by raising less revenue to pay for transportation projects statewide and allowing Virginia’s most populous municipalities to raise taxes for projects in their own areas.
Democrats in the Virginia Senate objected to the compromise deal at first, saying it involved too much shifting of money from the state’s general fund, which pays for public workers, schools, health care and other programs and services.
Kaine’s transportation-funding proposal in 2006 helped lead to “the worst stalemate in the legislature’s history,” as the Post put it. But the former governor was working with a Republican-controlled House, and it takes two sides to butt heads. Furthermore, he showed a willingness to compromise and get a deal done the next year.
The Allen claim about a near government shutdown earns Two Pinocchios for its lack of context that suggested Kaine alone was to blame for legislative gridlock during his first year.
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