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Virginia GOP should nix the rhetoric, work with Warner on taxes
Follow the Warner tax-plan debate and get a taste of the state of Virginia politics.

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Date published: 12/21/2003


AS EXPECTED, the Republican response to Gov. Mark Warn- er's tax plan has been swift, nasty, and, for the most part, nonconstructive.

Such predictability is sad testimony to how fractious the two-party system in Virginia has become. The value of the two-party system is that it gives voters a choice, provides for the debate of ideas, and offers a subsystem of checks and balances within the legislative branch.

These are all good things. But problems develop when egos, personalities, and closed minds supplant good judgment. Motives are called into question, rhetoric becomes even murkier than usual, and progress stops dead in its tracks.

The governor's new tax plan is far from perfect. He claims he can achieve his premise of easing the tax bite on 65 percent of Virginians by eliminating some taxes and boosting others. He largely ignores the poor while playing into the hands of the Republican opposition.

Under his plan, gone would be the remaining 30 percent of the car tax, reduced by 7.5 percent a year for the next four years. Gone, almost entirely, would be the estate tax on farms and family businesses. Reduced would be the tax on groceries from 4 cents on the dollar to 2.5 cents. Reworked would be the state income-tax system, to shift more of the burden from the lower brackets to the higher ones.

Added would be a penny to the general sales tax on non-food items. Increased would be the tobacco tax on a pack of cigarettes from 2.5 cents per pack of cigarettes to 25 cents. Closed would be some corporate tax loopholes.

Gov. Warner estimates that the state would realize about $500 million a year from these changes--about half the annual cost of the car tax repeal. And he knows how he wants to spend it.

The governor's intention was to give the Republicans much of what he knew they wanted, in hopes of undercutting their arguments against the parts they don't like. It's a good political strategy.

But when the General Assembly comes out swinging in January, he will be pressed to negotiate, and his revenue projections, along with his 65 percent plan, will probably be out the window.

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