Democrats think they have found their deliverer. He is the new governor of Virginia, Timothy Kaine. So confident are they that Kaine can lead them to the electoral promise land, they have tapped him to deliver their party's response to President Bush's State of the Union speech. Given the threats posed by foreign and domestic terrorists, Democrats risk exposing Kaine as an inexperienced lightweight who is not in the president's league of knowledge and experience.
Democrats see Kaine as a more mature version of another Southern governor, Bill Clinton, the first Democrat to win two presidential terms since the glory days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kaine has at least two advantages over Clinton: he doesn't have Clinton's personal baggage, and his wife isn't Hillary. Kaine seems like a strong family man who speaks the language and religious faith of Middle America.
Kaine displayed his Democratic Party bon afides in the first days of his term as governor. He announced his intention to again boost the taxes of Virginians, who had already suffered through one huge tax increase under Kaine's predecessor, Mark Warner. Virginia has a surplus of $1 billion dollars, but Democrats think they never have enough of our money and so, like unsatisfied vampires, they are constantly looking for new sources of blood.
Kaine's spending plan includes massive outlays to overhaul Northern Virginia's jammed roads and inadequate rail systems. The Washington, D.C., area, of which Northern Virginia is a significant part, has some of the worst traffic in the nation.
Kaine aims to raise $4 billion in new taxes and fees by 2010 and deliver a transportation system that would undo Washington's notorious gridlock. But a policy built on roads is problematic, because history has shown in Northern Virginia and other congested regions of the country that traffic usually keeps up with "improved" road systems. It isn't long after old roads are widened and new ones built that cars fill the new space and traffic again backs up. The time it will take to "improve" Northern Virginia's road system - an estimated 10 years - will cause more lane closings, detours and worse gridlock than now exists.
If Kaine were as smart as his supporters say he is, he would steal from what Republicans used to do when they resembled Republicans. He would cut spending.
Any policy that relies solely, or even mostly, on ever-increasing taxes and fees to boost revenue is a policy that eventually will hurt business, reduce investment capital and harm the economy.
Where would spending reductions come from? Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) exposed some of the pork in Virginia's budget during the state's 2003 legislative session. It totaled $8.1 billion and included $2.4 million for the promotion of Virginia wine, $2 million for the Great Dismal Swamp Interpretive Center, and $117,500 to digitalize President Woodrow Wilson's historical papers.
Each year, approximately $300,000 is appropriated to the Virginia Association of Counties (VAC), allowing a select few of Virginia's local government officials and employees to dine on gourmet food, play golf, and enjoy the spas at one of Virginia's luxury resorts. Who do they think they are, members of Congress? Whatever happened to the Holiday Inn? Why should legislators get digs better than most Virginia citizens can afford? VAC's 2003 annual conference was held at the Homestead Resort in southwest Virginia, one of the ritziest hotels in the country.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, remains one of the better role models for cutting unnecessary state spending. Faced with budget problems, Sanford formed a commission in 2003 that identified wasteful spending. Adopting the commission's recommendations produced $225 million in immediate savings, with further annual savings of $300 million. Last year, he proposed a budget without a tax increase.
If Democrats think they're going to fool Virginians and the country by pretending Governor Kaine is something other than a traditional tax and spend Democrat, they will be disappointed. That virtually his first act as governor was to announce plans for another round of tax hikes with nothing said about spending reductions marks him as an old Democrat, not a new one.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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