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It's All About the I

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It's always instructive when New Yorkers lecture us on how to run our state.

Thank you, Mr. Stephen Moore, for suggesting that we'd be better off with almost no new highways over the next couple decades, sheriff's deputies on food stamps, enormous gaps between education standards and education spending, the loss of our AAA bond rating, hundreds of families stuck on the critical waiting list for mental retardation services, cramped prisons, overpopulated colleges and so on and so forth.

Of course, Moore -- senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal's editorial board and the author of a recent op-ed piece entitled "Virginia's Red State Blues" (www.opinionjournal.com/cc/?id=110010252) — doesn't exactly say he hates progress.

Instead, he belittles Virginia lawmakers, and particularly "liberal Republicans," for adopting the 2004 and 2007 tax increases that fund it.

He also quotes the Virginia Free Enterprise Fund's Peter Ferrara, a one-note, anti-tax Charlie: "No one can explain why even though the budget has doubled in 10 years and the state has a budget surplus, the legislature keeps raising taxes."

Does seem odd, doesn't it, given Republican majorities and all?

Well, maybe that's because Moore doesn't have the full or accurate story. At the risk of boring Virginians who've been through this drill 1,001 times, the budget growth at which Ferrara rails can almost all be laid at the feet of population growth, skyrocketing health care costs, a growing prison population (no parole, remember) and keeping up with the state's share of education standards.

Save Chesapeake Bay cleanup and preschool for at-risk children, very few programs of substance have been added during the period — although the car-tax reduction, which Moore praises, counts as one. Does he even know that the roughly $1 billion annual cost of reimbursing localities for lost property taxes gets toted up on the new spending side?

And does he know that Virginia actually is poised for a budget deficit this year? Or that we remain a low-tax state, relative to others? Yes, the state ran up a hefty surplus in 2005, right after passing a $1.4 billion annual tax increase under former Gov. Mark Warner. One fat year didn't cancel the need for a steady revenue source, however, after recession cutbacks and threats from Wall Street to yank our gold-standard bond rating.

Moore alleges that the balkiness of "Republican liberals" in lining up behind true conservatives is threatening the GOP's grip on the Old Dominion. "The real political unknown is whether liberal Republicans will come to understand that in order to hold onto power it's time for them to start helping conservative Republicans win general election races," he writes.

Already, he notes, Virginians have elected two successive Democratic governors and sent GOP Sen. George Allen packing in the last election.

Moore detects the GOP illness but prescribes the wrong medicine. The party's problem isn't the loss of moderate Republicans; it's the loss of moderate independents, the hefty segment of voters who don't align with either party but want solid education, adequate transportation and secure homes at the lowest reasonable taxes.

According to the most recent survey from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, 37 percent of state voters identify themselves as Republicans, 33 percent as Democrats and 28 percent as independents. Even if every single Republican lines up on the GOP side, the party can't win without attracting a substantial bloc of independents.

That's not likely to happen if Republicans persist in nominating candidates such as Patricia Stall, who unseated Senate Transportation Chair Marty Williams of Newport News in this month's GOP primary. Stall's anti-tax credentials are impeccable, but sensible independents may be a bit concerned about her views on education.

Stall once signed a statement in favor of "ending government involvement in education." If she loses, only the disingenuous will suggest that moderate (liberal in Moore's parlance) Republicans are to blame.

In recent years, reputable judges have named Virginia the best managed state in the nation and the best place for children to grow up. Not bad for a backwater.

The policies behind those accolades aren't grounded in ideological theory but in common sense. The victorious party is likely to be the one that recognizes that truth. S

Margaret Edds is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot, where this column first appeared.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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