Tuesday, November 02, 2010

1, 2, 3: Vote No, No, No

Most voters who go to the polls today in Virginia will be surprised to find, in addition to candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and a smattering of local office, three ballot measures asking for their permission to amend the Constitution of Virginia.

Two of the measures deal with creating conditions for exempting certain classes of individuals from local real estate property taxes, and the other permits the General Assembly to increase by as much as 50 percent the amount of tax revenue set aside in the so-called "rainy day" fund.

When it comes to amending the basic law of any jurisdiction, it is up to the proponents of the change to provide a compelling reason to do so.

In the case of these three amendments, it has been difficult to find any proponents at all, much less enthusiastic proponents who have laid out a persuasive argument in favor of change.

On the other hand, there have been those who have analyzed the three proposals and found them severely wanting.  One of those is Charlottesville radio show host and former city councilor Rob Schilling, who has recommended to his listeners on WINA-AM and the readers of his blog that they vote "no" on each of the measures on the November 2 ballot.

I agree with him.

With regard to the two property-tax measures, it is not a good precedent to set to allow any discretely defined group to be exempted from the common responsibility to pay taxes.  While I strongly support across-the-board tax cuts and accompanying cuts in government expenditures, carving out exemptions for politically well-connected or popular minority groups (in this case, disabled old people and disabled veterans) casts a very bad example.  First, it encourages other groups -- narrowly- or broadly-defined -- to seek similar exemptions for themselves.  Second, it means that all other taxpayers will have to pay a higher amount when their tax bills are assessed and collected.

With regard to expanding the "rainy day" fund, I would have less of a problem with it if "rainy day" were more specifically and narrowly defined.  If it were designed, for instance, to be used in the case of natural disasters like hurricanes, blizzards, or earthquakes that create large areas of destruction or, in another instance, in the case of a terrorist attack or conditions of armed rebellion, my objections would be muted.

The problem with the "rainy day" fund, as it is currently used, is that it gives legislators an excuse to dip into savings whenever there is a revenue shortfall, rather than finding ways to cut spending.

If there is a surplus in revenue, it should be returned to the taxpayers as a refund or tax cut, not added to a supply of "mad money" for members of the General Assembly to play with.

I believe that the default vote for any referendum or other type of ballot measure is "no."  So my recommendation for today's election:  Vote no on each and every proposed constitutional amendment. 

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