of higher taxes have fallen back to an old battle
line. As this
yearís campaign season begins, they have turned to
the argument that Virginians are under taxed,
compared to taxpayers in other states.
are times when tax advocates have focused instead on
an array of needs they contend will go unmet without
a tax increase. That
seemed to work with legislators in 2004, but it
canít be resorted to year after year.
Voters arenít apt to believe that unmet
needs are overwhelming when their legislature has
just enacted the largest tax increase in state
doesnít mean that the tax hike lobby will ever
stop harping about what it labels as ďunmet
harping springs from a deeply imbedded value system
that assumes only government can and should respond
to social needs. These
statists refuse to concede that some needs would
still go unmet even if all income and wealth were
grabbed through government taxation.
talk about unmet needs is little more than
background noise this year.
Something more is required to persuade voters
to support a tax increase.
outspoken conservatives give the statists an opening
by insisting that Virginians are already overtaxed.
Whether true or not, this argument invites
the tax lobby to roll out comparative analyses
showing that Virginians pay far less than the
average American taxpayer.
Conservatives shoot back with their own
the average Virginianís eyes glaze over.
large part because of the size and timing of the
2004 state tax increase, the tax lobby isnít
pushing for another hike in general fund revenues.
It has focused on a tax hike in 2006 for
transportation even though the legislature recently
appropriated $850 million for transportation out of
the general fund surplus.
soundly defeated two regional referenda in 2002 that
would have increased the sales tax to fund
In addition, public opinion surveys have
demonstrated that the public is willing to accept
user charges rather than taxes to finance new
no wonder that the tax lobby is falling back to the
comparative tax burden argument.
That old tactic might work if conservatives
respond as they usually do.
It simply isnít shrewd for conservatives to
overstate the comparative tax burden felt by
Virginians or even to allow the debate to focus on
such comparisons. Conservatives
do themselves a favor by emphasizing the virtue of
keeping taxes low.
relatively low position among states as an
undesirable condition that needs to be corrected.
Conservatives view such a ranking as a good
thing, but they need to do a much better job
explaining why itís a good thing.
important, too, for conservatives to explain the
corollary to the proposition that low taxes are good
for the economy and a blessing to hard-pressed
corollary is that by keeping taxes low, we place a
greater burden on people and private institutions to
deal with these needs directly.
Most social needs can be addressed more
effectively through private action than by
order to prevail in this ongoing tax debate,
conservatives must spend less attention to
statistics and comparative analyses and more to
painting a clearer picture of their vision and how
it can actually improve the lives of average
conservatives are labeled right-wing ideologues, but
havenít effectively communicated their ideas.
As Ronald Reagan recognized, every generation
must be taught the lesson anew.
May 23, 2005