The kid’s braces must come first

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 12, 2004

Imagine you’ve lost your job. Your mortgage payment is a month past due; credit card companies are calling so often that you no longer answer the phone; your kid needs braces and you don’t know where groceries are coming from next week.

How do you deal with it? You borrow money from a loan shark and take your family to Disney World for a week.

That’s the only analogy I could think of on Thursday to describe the president’s announcement to send Americans back to the moon and then on to Mars.

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Mercifully, in Virginia, our chief executive is a responsible grown-up. Gov. Mark Warner visited Suffolk that day, appearing before the Rotary Club to outline his proposal to reform Virginia’s antiquated tax structure.

The governor was magnificent in his presentation. He’s a slick salesman. You have to be to be successful in what he is trying to do, in effect, making government responsible.

Warner’s been in office for two years. He inherited a state that was in the throes of economic malaise – the result of almost eight years of unrestrained spending and wholesale tax cutting. It was a recipe for disaster.

And the disaster came in the form of a $6 billion budget shortfall – the largest in state history.

As a result, the state has been unable to meet its constitutional obligations – funding for schools, road improvements, etc. Local governments have been left holding the bag, struggling to come up with money for their schools and their only alternative is in raising the property tax rates or as in the case of Suffolk, the real estate assessments.

Tax cuts are, for the most part, illusory, because nobody has the courage to couple those cuts with corresponding cuts in services. As Warner noted, since 1995 Virginia has created some 50 tax breaks, eliminating $1.5 billion from the state’s revenue stream.

With all those cuts, are you seeing any more money in your pocket? No, because the state simply cut the money it gave to local governments, which in turn had to increase local taxes to make up the difference.

Sure there are some cuts – mostly for the helpless in our society – but nobody has the courage to eliminate the real welfare – the tax loopholes and giveaways to corporations.

Warner’s logic is sound. The state is constitutionally required to fund schools, complete the phase out of the car tax, and many other obligations. &uot;Either fund them or change the laws,&uot; he said. How many members of the General Assembly do you think are going to stand up in January and call for the elimination of the car tax relief? So it’s going to have to be funded, and that means the money must come from somewhere.

I hate taxes as much as the next guy, but I agree with council members Bobby Ralph and Linda Johnson who said that Virginia has to do something. The governor’s proposal is not perfect. His proposed increase in the sales tax is regressive and there’s a lot more room for the state to make some money through cigarette taxes. At least it’s a start. Hopefully, those issues will be addressed during the General Assembly’s session and we’ll end up with a plan that brings our state responsibly into the modern era.

Sure, we’d all rather just forget our responsibilities and go to the moon or Mars, but we’ve got a kid needing braces.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at