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They should have let the voters decide

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By John Barnhart


    I’m not a fan of tax hikes. Neither is Delegate Lacey Putney. That’s why I took a serious look at Del. Putney’s proposal to raise the state sales tax by a percentage point from the current 5 percent to 6 percent. Half of the new revenue that this tax would have raised, estimated at $1.1 billion per year, would have been deposited into a new Supplemental Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund. The other half of the sales tax increase revenue would have gone toward mental health, public schools and state colleges.
    The thing that I like about Del. Putney’s bill is that it called for the tax hike to go before the voters in a referendum. I would have voted “no,” as I don’t want to pay more in sales tax for any reason, but it’s great to see somebody in Richmond thinking about asking the citizens about something, instead of just doing it. If a majority of us feel that this tax increase is needed, then we would be able to choose to raise the sales tax. If a majority of us do not want a sales tax hike, if we believe that the Commonwealth needs to further reduce its spending, then we wouldn’t have the General Assembly ramming it down our throats, for our own good, of course.
    It’s unfortunate that the House of Delegates Finance Committee chose to bury Del. Putney’s bill a matter of days later. Delegate Kathy Byron made the motion to table the bill.
    She shouldn’t have done this. Now that the deed is done, the members of the Finance Committee should explain to us why they have a problem with letting the citizens of the Commonwealth decide this issue.
    As I said, I would have voted “no” in a referendum as I don’t want to pay any more in sales tax when I buy things. But, I have to admit that Del. Putney’s tax proposal would not have been devastating. It would have added 50 cents to a 50 dollar purchase. This would have not been enough to alter anybody’s spending habits. It wouldn’t have driven businesses out of the Commonwealth. It would not have had any negative impact on Virginia’s economy. It would have raised additional money for road construction and maintenance and repairing bridges. It also would have raised money for three other areas that everybody says are core state services.
    In addition, the fact that this tax increase would have gone before the voters in a referendum would tell the folks in Richmond whether we want this stuff badly enough to actually pay for it. If the tax question passed, it would tell the folks in the General Assembly that we are, indeed, willing to pay for these things. The extra money would be there for them, and our elected officials would know that they need to look elsewhere for cuts in the future.    
    And, if the referendum failed, it could be a sign that maybe a majority of us don’t think that some of these core services are core services after all. Or, it could be a sign that we think the money currently spent on them is not being well spent.
    Had this measure gone to the voters, people who believe that Virginia needs this additional tax revenue would have had a chance to present their case to the people who would have to pay the tax. Likewise, people who think that the sales tax hike was a bad idea could have explained their position to the public.
    Now that the House of Delegates has shown a total disinterest in asking us how we feel about Del. Putney’s proposal, they had better not even think of proposing any tax increases. This includes cutting state funds to localities to pay for state mandated services. A tax hike is a tax hike, whether members of the General Assembly do it themselves, or force local elected officials to do it by holding a state mandate gun to their heads.