Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Beware Chicken Littles

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter has a great article in today's Potomac News, which he was kind enough to send to me. I reprint it in full here:

Beware of "Crisis" Rhetoric

Have you noticed how every problem we face in government is a "crisis?" And often the single solution proposed by big-government advocates is - you guessed it -higher taxes.

Already the Governor and his "in-tax-icated" allies in the Senate of Virginia are demanding more of our income as we approach the Special Session on Transportation the last week of September, while ignoring overwhelming public opinion opposing tax-hikes.

People in northern Virginia know instinctively that they are sending more than their fair share of money to Richmond and want this changed.

They understand - even when politicians don't - that they don't pay their local taxes out of one wallet, their state taxes out of another, their federal taxes out of yet one more. People understand they are spending huge amounts on government and are fed up with being asked to shell out more.

In Virginia alone, the state budget has risen from $38 billion in 1996 when then Governor George Allen left office to $74 billion today, that's almost a 100 percent jump in just 10 years.

Think about it. It took 230 years for Virginia's budget to rise to $38 billion, and just 10 years to double. At this rate of budgetary growth, our children will be strapped with incomparable financial burdens that will outstrip their ability to make ends meet.

And yet, both the Governor and the Senate think the solution to our problems is making hard working Moms and Dads pay more. This will be their mantra in the coming Special Session on transportation just as it was when the Senate held the budget process hostage to higher taxes earlier this year.

Unfortunately, their motive to raise taxes is not really to "fix transportation." We had a huge surplus in Richmond this year that approached $2 billion, yet the Senate refused the House plan that would have put $1.2 billion of that money in transportation projects to reduce congestion.

Why? It comes down to this: In the House, we see all the money that goes to Richmond as belonging to the people. As such, it should be available, on a priority basis, to be spent where it will have the best impact for the people. But the Senate likes to segment the General Fund, where most of the surplus resides, for everything except transportation.

They argue - wrongly - that if we don't put the General Fund off limits to transportation, there won't be any money left over for core obligations, like education. This is nonsense.

In the last 10 years, government spending on public education has grown by 46 percent while school enrollment has averaged a mere 10 percent. Yet the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in its 12th annual Report Card on American Education, found no correlation between spending and learning.

Despite these facts, the Governor and the Senate insist on putting a huge amount of the surplus in education to enhance their argument that the only way to fix transportation was to raise taxes.

Interesting, the recent revelation that former Governor Mark Warner's Secretary of Finance deliberately ignored a major miscalculation (that actually put more in the education budget that is permitted in law) serves to illustrate the point.

In January of this year, the Administration failed to inform the General Assembly that there was an error of $137 million per year in over payments to local schools buried deep in the budget.

Only last month were we informed of this major miscalculation, after the budget was signed. And what is the proposed solution by both the Governor and the Senate? If you guessed they want to reallocate this amount to the "crisis-racked" transportation system-well-you would be wrong. Instead, they are proposing that we sustain the over-payment.

That means $274 million in this biennium will be spent in contravention to parameters in the law. And when you add in the $29 million additional surplus the Governor "found" just before we agreed to the budget in June (and the House set aside for transportation), there could be over $300 million on the table right now for transportation.

A pittance, some would argue. But consider this. The widening of I-95 lanes from the Occoquan Bridge to the Fairfax County Parkway that is currently in the budget and set to begin next year will cost only $74 million, while bringing choke-point relief to over 100,000 commuters every day at a third of the amount of available surplus right now.

Likewise, the Tri-County Parkway under consideration for Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties is estimated at $201 million, again something that could be financed with current surplus.

So when you are treated to "crisis" high-tax rhetoric this September, remember that we have serious transportation problems that require real reform and re-prioritization of what is currently going to Richmond, not higher taxes.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) represents Prince William and Fauquier Counties in the House of Delegates. He serves on the House Finance Committee.

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