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Open Throttle, or Hit the Brakes on State Budget?


Monday, January 5, 2009   

Richmond, VA – Reduce state services and lay off government employees, or keep things churning? Higher taxes, or lower? Those questions and competing ideas will play out when the Virginia General Assembly tackles the huge budget deficit upon its return to Richmond next week.

Facing a deficit of more than $970 million for 2009, the temptation is strong for state lawmakers to accept Governor Tim Kaine's proposal to lay off 1,500 state workers and cut multiple programs and services. However, some experts argue a better way to keep a sinking economy afloat, is to keep money flowing - according to Dave Shreve, an economist with the Virginia Organizing Project.

"One ought to look at the money that the state spends on its employees as a net positive in general, any time you're in a recession like this."

In Shreve's opinion, the budget "fix" that would be the most fair is the one that affects the fewest number of people. Instead of cutting jobs, Shreve's group believes the state should adopt a progressive income tax. This that would increase taxes on those in the state's highest tax brackets, he explains.

"We argue that, if you do things in a progressive manner as we suggest, it's really the only way you can have the lowest possible rates for the greatest number of people."

Others counter with a starkly opposite view: that lowering income taxes for all is the best way to keep money flowing. The last time Virginia's state tax bracket structure was changed was in 1919. Whether it's an option 90 years later will be among the topics of discussion starting January 14, when the legislature convenes.

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