Near the end of January, almost 250 Virginians hired babysitters, used vacation time and burned a tank of gas in order to travel to Richmond. Why? Because they wanted their voices heard at the State Capitol and asked for more from their legislators.
No, not more money or other special favors. Unlike the lobbyists who daily descend on our Capitol, these taxpayers don’t have the clout — much less the desire — to pull strings and ask for special taxpayer-funded goodies. Rather, they came to Richmond to advocate for more economic freedom and more common-sense solutions to the big problems facing our commonwealth.
Last year, these same citizen lobbyists stormed the Capitol to oppose any increases to the gas tax and in defense of property rights. Again this year, the same citizen lobbyists will lead similar fights because of legislation introduced by the same tax-and-spend legislators.
The new taxes include increases in fees for car registrations, which don’t go to road construction and maintenance, but to public rail transportation projects. These projects, such as the Dulles Rail Silver Line Phase 2, could never pay for themselves, and they are now increasing the tax burden for all Virginians.
In addition to those fees, these tax-and-spend legislators introduced more new taxes on online tourism sales and voted to give local governments more authority to institute meals taxes. This may seem like pennies to these lawmakers, but to families this is just more money from their already stretched budgets and less money going into the economy.
It didn’t have to be this way. Instead of trimming the budget, the state legislature has given away billions — yes, that’s billions with a “b” — to their best friends in big industries through selective tax credits.
According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study conducted in 2011, Virginia offers almost 200 tax preferences in the form of exemptions, subtractions, deductions or credits. The tax exemptions may sound benign, but when targeted to a particular industry or population, they no longer alleviate the overall tax burden but instead become a clever tool for robbing Peter to pay Paul at the request of Phillip. In this case, Peter is the average Virginian family, while Paul is recipient of the tax credit and Phillip is his well-connected, smooth-talking lobbyist.
The irony could not be starker, considering the legislature’s latest requests this session for even higher taxes. While our transportation infrastructure continues to decline, the state legislature is giving away in special tax credits an amount that’s equivalent to the transportation budget. That’s right — the General Assembly could fund the current transportation budget — and then some — with the goodies it hands out to the slick lobbyists roaming the halls of the Capitol.
And yes, taxes have their place for funding the many wonderful and important functions of government. No one suggests we shouldn’t pay our teachers, fire-fighters, police, road workers and so forth. Many Virginians do, however, object to legislators who cry wolf because they spent your money buying friendships with the lobbyists and now they need more of your hard-earned dollars.
Your elected leaders could and should have made the hard decisions, but instead they chose to give away someone else’s money. That’s not what we sent them to Richmond to do, and we shouldn’t tolerate them taking the path of least resistance.
Residents of the commonwealth should demand more from their legislators — not more money, but more common-sense solutions to our pressing problems, like the transportation budget. Lawmakers can and should be capable of the hard work and grave responsibility required for these tasks. If they are not, the taxpayers have the option to offer them an exit strategy for a new career, so that more principled, disciplined representatives can take their place and solve the commonwealth’s problems.
We can get more out of our state government, but only if taxpayers make it clear that they are paying attention and demanding more. Until then, lobbyists for the well-connected will continue to take more while the average Virginian gets less take-home pay.
Our rallying cry is simple — stop playing favorites with our money, or we’ll start playing hardball.
Audrey Jackson is state director of Americans for Prosperity. Contact her at infoVA@afphq.org.