best thing coming out the 2004 General Assembly was
the cap on car tax relief -- a subsidy for
inefficient local government and a running sore on
the 2004 edition of the Virginia General Assembly
did nothing more than cap the car tax reimbursement
to local governments in Virginia at $950 million
annually, it would have been a good year for
legislative common sense, even with the clock still
running -- at day 117, and counting.
course, the legislature accomplished quite a bit
more than this, but this action is the single most
significant component of a compromise agreement that
has generally torn asunder alliances previously
thought to be unassailable.
idea that the state could, and would, reimburse
boards of supervisors, and town and city councils
for the local taxes they raised on personal
automobiles was a cockamammied one from the
beginning — unless you were Jim Gilmore, who saw
it as a way to the governorship, fiscal
consequences, and fairness, be damned.
the time, Virginia’s economy was on a roll.
Unemployment was low.
Business was booming.
State tax coffers were spilling over.
To some, handing a blank check back to local
governments seemed like the thing to do.
And that’s essentially what happened.
proposal set up a preposterous proposition to local
bigger your budget, the higher your taxes, the more
money you waste, the more inefficiently you operate
— the more the state is going to reimburse you!
That such thinking seemed somehow out of sync
with traditional Republican attitudes toward
government growth and spending went by the wayside.
few legislators — and there were a few — who
could see beyond the gimmickery implied by
Gilmore’s promise, who could see the inherent bias
and unfairness of Gilmore’s bumper sticker, who
could foresee what would happen if the economy went
south, were simply drowned out in the clamor.
Cranwell, the great and legendary "Dickie"
Cranwell, master and commander of the House of
Delegates for so long, dug in.
“Over my dead body,” said he.
But by then, Democratic losses across the
state had flip-flopped the political make-up of the
House and Republicans were running the show.
Cranwell didn’t have the votes it took to
kill this idiocy outright.
what he did have was an uncanny, and unmatched,
ability to always be waiting for you at the next
the benefit of every single school system in
Virginia, he chained hundreds of millions of dollars
in new school construction and renovation funds to
Gilmore’s "no car tax" plan, effectively
telling the governor:
“You’re going to get your deal through
the legislature, but this goes with it.”
it did. Cranwell’s
school construction component poured badly-needed
money into every school in the state and Gilmore
basked in the glory of "no car tax." If
you can call it "glory."
began immediately. For
starters, it became obvious that Gilmore’s cost
estimates had about as much substance to them as
does a puff of smoke.
estimates quickly doubled, then doubled again.
A program the Gilmore campaign initially said
would cost the state about $300 million in
reimbursements to local governments, went almost
overnight to a "revised" estimate of some
$600 million. And
then to more than a billion — a lot more.
It finally settled out at projections of
about $1.3 billion.
other problems became evident — at least to a lot
of the smaller, poorer, relatively rural counties:
most of that money was going to pour into the
richest part of the state.
alone — the highest per-capita income county in America — got a third of the total!
then the economy tanked.
The Northern Virginia
technology bubble that had pulled the state’s
economic wagon for a decade burst — and the
remnants of it evaporated.
Then came the tragic events of
Sept. 11, 2001, a terrorist attack that plunged Virginia and the
rest of the country into a recession.
back at the ranch… the cost of the Gilmore plan
continued to spiral upward every year — by about
$50 million dollars. There
was no end in sight to it — until the other day,
when the House and Senate, welcoming common sense
back home among them, said “Enough of this
foolishness is enough,” and capped it.
May 10, 2004