A banner headline at the top of the Washington Post Sunday Metro section reads
It's Time for Deeds to Step Up to the Plate on a Tax Increase
Columnist Robert McCartney, for years the top editor of the Metro section, says that Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial nominee should "Propose to raise taxes to fix the roads. Yes, you read that correctly. Raise taxes."
No doubt a lot of Republicans are hoping that Deeds will take the Post's advice.
McCartney goes on to say that taxes must go up because (in bold) "The public sector needs to expand." Because, you see, the infrastructure is failing in Virginia and also in D.C., and "Virginia's roads clearly require extra revenue."
Well, let's see. Virginia's state budget doubled between 1996 and 2006, from $17 billion to $34 billion. And the governor's office estimated last December that the state would spend $37 billion in 2009 and $37.6 billion in 2010. Thanks to the recession, and to the state's habit of spending during good years as if the party would never end, those numbers may drop slightly. But even with the current shortfalls, the budget's gone up by $20 billion in the past 14 years, and they can't find enough to fix the roads? What have they spent that extra $20 billion on?
Do Mr. McCartney, Mr. Deeds, and other tax-hikers ever think about prioritizing state spending? The Virginians who call themselves the Tertium Quids do. They urge the legislators to review the recommendations of the Wilder Commission and the Virginia Piglet Book to find some opportunities for savings.
But as usual, state governments spend with abandon while the money rolls in, and then when the lean years hit, they declare that they'll need more money to teach math and fix the roads. It's called the Washington Monument Syndrome — never cut the waste, the fat, the golf courses, the layers of bureaucracy, the fringes, the frills; threaten to cut the most basic or traditional or popular functions of government in order to pressure the voters to go along with a tax increase. Journalists shouldn't play along.
Meanwhile, the Post's Outlook section fronts a column by economist Gregory Clark declaring that we need to
Tax and Spend, or Face the Consequences
Specifically, he says, there will be no jobs for the stupid people in the new dynamic economy, so those of us with jobs are going to have to be taxed to the bone to support a huge class of nonworkers — or face revolution, I suppose. Which is even worse than congested highways.
Other Post writers have joined the tax-hike chorus recently: Steven Pearlstein, "Health Reform Threatened by Conservatives' Anti-Tax Fantasy"; constant editorials on "the transportation funding problem"; Ruth Marcus on Obama's need to display "political courage" by raising taxes so he can keep on spending; etc.
Alas, it is a constant frustration to the Post that, as Gregory Clark puts it, "The United States was founded, essentially, on resistance to taxes, and to this day, an aversion to the grasping hand of the state seems fundamental to the American psyche."