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Local boys don't make good in fixing Virginia's budget imbroglio
If politics is a study in the art of compromise, Virginia's lawmakers have lost the art.

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Date published: 4/18/2004

HAVING TWO lawmakers from Stafford County hold positions of power in their respective General Assembly chambers was supposed to give the area a feeling of power and prestige.

Not only was Sen. John Chichester already chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, but Del. Bill Howell became the speaker of the House, making him one of the commonwealth's most influential politicians.

Both Republicans, both gentlemen, both level-headed and prepared to act upon their convictions, the combination had clout written all over it, one's political bent notwithstanding. They could shape Virginia history.

Their accomplishments have been historic, all right, but not in the manner in which we had hoped. These virtual neighbors have been less than neighborly as the assembly has wrestled over how to write a budget that best serves Virginians. Have their egos taken the place of their convictions?

Sessions like this one can happen only when almost all those who can make a difference are wrong from the beginning. An exception is Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, despite standing accused by the anti-tax cult of going back on his campaign promise not to raise taxes. Let's call that criticism a feather in his cap, a badge of honor.

(His "promise" was based on fiscal circumstances that were current in 2000. Those circumstances have changed, to say the least, and the campaign pledge no longer applies. Case closed. Why is that so difficult to understand?)

The governor presented a plan that raised taxes to supply $1 billion over two years in much-needed revenue for state services. He presented his plan as tax reform, designed to reshape the way Virginia collects taxes and how the burden is shared.

Critics questioned his methods and his predictions about who would pay, and who would benefit and by how much. The General Assembly debate should have focused on how to tailor the governor's plan to make it palatable to all.

All, that is, except those who signed no-tax pledges to help them get elected. That is Mistake No. 1. If they don't know by now how counterproductive such pledges are, they need a little more wattage in the bulb. Elected officials need some flexibility to do their jobs well. They shouldn't voluntarily attach themselves to an ideological leash.

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