A strange bout of fiscal sobriety seems to be taking hold in Virginia these days. Faced with a $1 billion budget deficit and the potential loss of its AAA bond rating, the Republican-held Legislature is embracing a deficit- reduction strategy the White House and Congress would be wise to adopt: tax increases.
Last Thursday, Virginia’s Senate Republicans gave preliminary approval to a slew of tax hikes aimed at raising an additional $3.6 billion in revenue over the next two years. While Republicans in the lower House of Delegates have proposed tax increases totaling a much smaller $520 million, the two caucuses – joined by many of their Democratic colleagues and Democratic Gov. Mark Warner – agree that economic growth alone will not be enough to wash away the state’s red ink.
Raising taxes is not exactly in vogue among Republicans today. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has steadfastly maintained that closing his state’s $15 billion budget gap will not require increasing taxes. Closer to home, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has followed a similar course arguing that Minnesota must learn to live within its means, even if those means must be stretched perilously thin.
But the Bush administration has taken the no-new-taxes strategy to a whole new level, insisting that Congress make permanent the tax cuts that have pushed the federal deficit well over $500 billion.
None of this has kept politicians in Virginia from seriously addressing their own state’s fiscal crisis. Everything from the so-called “sin” taxes on cigarettes and liquor to tax breaks for big corporations have been fair game. Even the income tax has not escaped mention as a candidate for additional revenue. Whatever the strategy, there is widespread agreement that funding needed investments in education, transportation and health care will require a fiscally responsible approach to the current deficit.
Virginia’s fiscal discipline is a welcome change from the recklessness favored by the Bush administration. Raising taxes might not be the easiest path to follow, but governing involves making hard choices. Spending into deficit while ignoring critical investments should not be one of them.