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Editorial -- Nov. 5, 2003

After the Election

While election results will appear in this paper, due to the details of newspaper deadlines this editorial must be filed before there is any information available from the polls.

Campaigning has been partisan, heated and in many cases bitter. Many candidates have engaged in exaggeration, hyperbole and extreme negativism. Some have deliberately appealed to voters’ fears and prejudices. Next week, we’ll take a look at strategies employed by winners and losers.

IN LIFE AFTER the elections, candidates-turned-elected-officials will have to put name calling and power mongering aside to address some real problems.

The solutions to many of those problems, even the county problems, will be found in Richmond in the General Assembly.

Tax and budget reform efforts at the state level must be at the top of the agenda, both in Richmond and for local officials. Many, many candidates have moved through the election cycle giving lip service to tax reform while chanting mantra "revenue neutral." And comments by Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Halloween confirm that any hope of passing meaningful tax reform will have to pass the "revenue neutral test." That is reality; we won’t comment on its wisdom.

How can revenue neutral tax reform be meaningful, those who know of the depth of unmet needs in the county and state might ask?

Because even revenue-neutral tax reform will likely position governments for revenue growth in the not-too-distant future; the right kind of revenue-neutral tax and budget reforms could well result in dramatic improvements in fairness and resources.

HOWELL’S SPEECH to the Virginia Chamber offered some considerable hope to struggling local governments:

"Reform efforts should focus on these primary issues: how to get the state’s economy growing again; and how to make sure local governments share in the growth revenues in coming years so they can meet pressing education and other needs without local real estate tax increases."

Howell outlined two approaches that local officials should embrace. One, increasing the state’s share of school construction costs, and two, sharing state income tax revenue with localities.

"The problem essentially is that a combination of constitutional features distinctive to Virginia – plus state policy decisions – have placed local governments in an untenable position," Howell said.

"Simply put, localities have too many responsibilities and too few resources. …

"Unless we make reforms now, local governments will not participate in the impending economic recovery. Local governments will continue to face mounting fiscal stress – especially from new school construction, renovation and repair needs. And that will result in continued pressure for higher local real estate taxes."

Whoever is elected to serve as chairman of the Board of Supervisors should head to Richmond to meet with Howell immediately, as well as Gov. Mark Warner, to try to be part of the solution.

<1b>— Mary Kimm

<lst>mkimm@connectionnewspapers.com

Read Speaker Howell’s speech at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce in full at www.vachamber.com.