Counties and taxes

Don’t expect much change in Virginia’s tax structure this year as the General Assembly continues to brush aside tax reform legislation choosing instead to send it to a committee for “further study.”

Taxes are a touchy issue with state lawmakers. Just mention taxes in a bill and lawmakers drive ahead with plans to kill it, table it or study it all three usually having the same effect. This atmosphere is magnified as state elections get closer.

The latest tax reform bill to be tabled by the legislature is one that would have given county governments the same taxing authority as Virginia’s cities. The bill, which is being driven primarily by Fairfax lawmakers and business interests, was designed to give county boards of supervisors the authority to raise taxes on items such as cigarettes, meals and admissions to special events. City governments have the ability to raise these types of taxes while counties must first obtain enabling legislation from the General Assembly.

A specific bill allowing counties this taxing authority, sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, was recently tabled by the Senate Finance Committee. It will now be examined by the McDonnell/Hanger commission which is studying an overhaul of the Virginia tax code.

Supporters of the bill say it would allow county governments to shore up their budgets which currently rely too much on real estate taxes.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, R-Stafford, said the bill needs to be looked at as part of the restructuring of the entire Virginia tax code. If this is the case, we hope the county taxing authority bill is considered in whatever comes out of this titanic study.

We’re not saying that counties should begin nickel and diming taxpayers into poverty through local taxes but the authority should be granted on that level. The current climate in Richmond has made it almost impossible for state lawmakers to vote on tax increases even if they’re needed.

Local taxing authority should be bestowed on local governments which are closer to the constituents and whose actions are held more accountable by the public.

If a county government wants to raise the taxes on cigarettes or Big Mac extra value meals, then they should have the right to do so without going through Richmond. Nowhere is the voice of the taxpayer as influential as in the local halls of government. If raising taxes is a bad idea, local governments will be discouraged through the actions of their constituents or through the ballot box.

Likewise, if the supervisors in Fairfax want to raise their taxes, let them. That just means more people will shop in Prince William and Manassas.

To tax or not to tax should be left up to the county.

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