The recent transportation bill has provoked yet another skirmish between the frustrated conservative grassroots and the frustrated cohort of tax increasers.
Blog posts are flying. You’ve seen the split here on Bearing Drift and probably in your Facebook news feed too.
Governor McDonnell has mounted a slick campaign to sell the legislation – while other GOP leaders are collecting petition signatures urging him to veto it.
Talking points for the legislation boil down to what one delegate from my own county argued: I went to Richmond to solve problems, to promote an environment where businesses can flourish and create jobs. We need a strong transportation network to do that and this measure will strengthen our transportation network.
In short: Raising taxes = Solving problems
Within the bubble often occupied by legislators and legislative staff, raising taxes does indeed look like a solution – even the only solution. The problem is clear, presented by agency staff, lobbyists, campaign donors and colleagues: $_X__ are desperately needed to meet a great public need. Every tax dollar on its way to the treasury is already allocated to some other pressing need, to satisfy some federal mandate or to appease one or another special interest. Clearly more revenue is needed and revenue comes from tax dollars. The solution must be to come up with a tax increase cocktail that the public can swallow, either by spreading a small per capita tax over a large swath of the population, or targeting a small portion of the population with a rather significant tax. Call it making the rich pay their fair share, call it abuser fees, or argue that some particular tax or fee has not increased in thirty years and more revenue is essential to keep up with the demands of our time. Surely everyone will understand.
Except that everyone doesn’t understand. For some mysterious reason, a most unaccommodating group of constituents (often known as “the conservative base”), respond to the tax increase with great ire. They say things like:
Those Americans who still have jobs increasingly feel the burden of supporting those who do not. Mom was laid off but she still needs to pay her heating bill, so we give generously. The grocery store is supporting a drive by the local food pantry and we add a few extra cans to the shopping cart. Our house of worship takes up an extra collection to help those in need and we decide to forego Starbucks in favor of helping our neighbor. At the same time, we are being squeezed by government. Maybe we got a 1.5% pay increase last year – and then we saw an extra 2% come out of our paycheck for Social Security, starting in January. Gas prices increased $0.25 / gallon last month. The cost of health insurance keeps going up, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (was that bill title a cruel joke?). We hear a troubling rumor: since our company is now forced to provide health insurance for employee’s offspring until they are 26 years old, they are thinking about controlling costs by dumping spousal benefits. The little we have has to go farther and farther and farther.
We feel like the cash cow that is out of milk but still being head-butted, sucked raw and stripped dry.
To add insult to injury, not only is the Democratic majority and Republican minority in Washington ignoring us but the Republican majority in Richmond is too! Apparently bi-partisanship means that both parties agree that they should have the spending of our hard-earned money.
Ideally, the two party system is supposed to ensure that the voters have a choice between two competing ideologies, two different visions or directions for their government – for their future. When our electeds never can seem to agree on reducing spending or reducing the size and scope of Government but can find common ground around skimming just a little more off our paycheck, our elections have been reduced to providing voters with a choice between two or more competing personalities.
I am a grassroots Republican activist because I believe in presenting my fellow Virginians with a compelling vision for limited, efficient, liberty respecting, personal rights protecting government. Rather than proudly carrying that banner and protecting their constituents from wasteful spending and unwanted tax increases, Republican leadership betrayed my principles to the point that some are even asking what the point is of having the Virginia GOP.
As usual, Sen. Chap Peterson (D-34) had the money quote on the deal, describing it as:
“a grotesque combination of tax cuts, tax rebates, tax increases, new taxes, old taxes which are phased out (and then reappear elsewhere), regional alliances . . . special projects, and exceptions to all of the above.”
And the Wall Street Journal opined: “There’s one thing uglier than a Democratic tax-and-spend spree. A Republican one.”
That’s kind of ugly has to stop. And that’s why I’m not giving up on the Virginia GOP. I still believe in common-sense, conservative principles. I don’t want to go into the next election and try to convince my neighbors that red is a prettier color than blue (and I won’t). I want to persuade them that conservative principles empower all of us to be our best selves, to care for our families and then have some left over to invest for our retirement (who under 40 believes Social Security will be there for them?) and help our neighbors (because social welfare enslaves rather than empowers those who are struggling).
So raising taxes really does make sense – IF (and only if) you resolutely ignore your taxpaying constituents. And, for some – including Governor McDonnell – your promises to them.
Note: This post has been updated to reflect Sen. Peterson’s accurate quote regarding HB 2313, the transportation tax bill, and the Wall Street Journal quote regarding the bill.