An October 14 Washington Times editorial supporting Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's pledge to oppose tax increases misleadingly blamed Virginia's budget deficit on a “two-decade long windfall for social welfare programs and pork projects.” But funding for social welfare programs in Virginia in recent years can hardly be described as a windfall.
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 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, a study by the Public Policy Institute of New York State reported that in 1997, per capita state and local welfare spending in Virginia ranked 45th among the 50 states.
The Times editorial also suggested that a tax package pushed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who was elected in 2001, was the only measure employed to combat Virginia's large budget deficit, when in fact, the state cut billions of dollars from its budget in 2002. Passed by the Virginia legislature in May 2004, the package increased the sales tax and the tax on cigarettes and eliminated some corporate tax breaks [Washington Post, 5/21/04]. However, those tax increases came after Warner cut spending on social programs to reduce the deficit two years earlier without raising taxes. 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. 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].
From the October 14 Washington Times editorial:
Messrs. Warner and Kaine like to say that their tax increase restored the state's fiscal health, as if it was the only available option. But when revenues were projected to be $1 billion higher than expected, instead of returning to Virginians their tax-dollars, further spending projects were the end result. This is Virginia's underlying spending problem: A two-decade long windfall for social welfare programs and pork projects have made it impossible to pay for necessary expenditures like much-needed transportation improvements without raising taxes. Buttressed by tax-happy Republicans, what's to keep Mr. Kaine from altering the Warner record?