WSJ editorial falsely claimed Virginia legislators "spent like crazy on social services and schools"

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

A February 23 Wall Street Journal editorial bemoaned what it called "a $1 billion tax hike for roads and transit projects" proposed by Virginia's GOP senators, whom it accused of spending "like crazy on social services and schools," leaving the state's highways underfunded. In fact, in recent years, Virginia's spending on schools and social welfare has stayed below the national average, and in some cases, ranks among the lowest in the country.

A February 23 Wall Street Journal editorial, titled "How to Turn a Red State Blue" (subscription required), criticized Virginia's Republican state senators, who currently hold the majority in that body, for "writing an instruction manual on how to become a minority party" by "refus[ing] to take a coherent stand on taxes." The editorial went on to note losses suffered by the Virginia GOP in the last election, when Democrat Tim Kaine took the governor's mansion.

In its editorial, the Journal bemoaned what it called "a $1 billion tax hike for roads and transit projects" proposed by GOP senators, whom it accused of spending "like crazy on social services and schools," leaving Virginia's highways underfunded. In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, in recent years, Virginia's spending on schools and social welfare has stayed below the national average, and in some cases, ranks among the lowest in the country.

The economic recession in 2001, driven by the decline of the technology sector, greatly hampered Virginia's economy, which relied heavily on the technology industry. Also, as The Washington Post noted in an August 6, 2001, editorial, over the course of the preceding two decades, Virginia's state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income had already dropped from 39th to 42nd among states, which limited the state's funding of social programs:

The low tax level has had a predictable effect. State education spending is below the national average. Per-pupil spending in grades K through 12 is nearly 10 percent below the national figure, and in recent years has been allowed to decline in real terms.

[...]

State health and welfare spending as a percentage of personal income is below not just the national average but the level in almost every other state in the South. Virginia prides itself on its higher education system, but its spending even on that is no more than average in these relative terms. In all these areas -- public education, higher education, health and welfare -- poorer states such as Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama make a greater effort -- meaning they divert a larger share of income to the public purpose -- than does Virginia.

Further, in March 2002, the state "approved new spending plans ... that cut social programs and other services while increasing fees and college tuitions to close a budget gap estimated at $ 3.8 billion for the next 2 1/2 years" [Washington Post, 3/16/02]. Data from the United States Census Bureau show that in 2004, Virginia's total expenditures per capita ranked 40th in the country, and as illustrated by the graph below, Virginia's total expenditures per capita on education, public welfare, and health rank the state 12th among the 13 Southern states.

State

Total expenditures per capita on education, public welfare, and health (amounts in dollars)

West Virginia

3,045.69

Mississippi

2,984.14

Kentucky

2,946.15

Alabama

2,872.97

South Carolina

2,788.30

North Carolina

2,730.80

Tennessee

2,680.69

Georgia

2,637.82

Maryland

2,585.98

Louisiana

2,446.90

Florida

2,361.16

Virginia

2,225.81

Texas

2,101.64

From the February 23 Wall Street Journal editorial:

As a high-tech state, Virginia has been a huge beneficiary of the expansion spurred by the Bush investment tax cuts. But the entrenched senate Republicans -- many of whom have been fixtures in the capital of Richmond for decades -- want to spend the tax windfall and then some.

A Virginia Institute for Public Policy study notes that, over the past decade, the state budget has swollen at twice the rate of inflation plus population growth in the state. That's an $11 billion bonanza for state agencies, or about $500 more spending annually per Virginian. It's true that roads have been neglected during these high-spending years, causing some of the worst pockets of traffic gridlock in the country. But that's because state pols spent like crazy on social services and schools -- though student achievement tests show virtually no gains.

[...]

Meanwhile, property taxes are rising and clueless Republicans haven't lifted a finger to cap assessments. Thanks to a housing boom in Northern Virginia, state property tax bills for median priced homes have risen by $2,000, or 85% in six years. The sticker shock has enraged homeowners and taxpayers are fighting back locally. Yet Republicans are proposing to raise taxes again anyway.

And that's how to turn a red state blue.

Posted In
Economy, Budget, Education, Education Funding
Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal
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