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Brink, Colgan: Patrons of Kaine's lost causes

Anita Kumar

Bob Brink, the affable Democratic delegate from Arlington, was in Rhode Island with family on a pre-Christmas vacation a couple weeks ago when his cell phone rang.

Gov. Tim Kaine was on the line.

The outgoing Democratic governor wanted to know if Brink would sponor a bill to raise the income tax for him in the upcoming legislative session.

Brink's response? Yes.

Brink believes -- as Kaine does -- that scrapping the hated car tax and replacing it with an income tax is the right thing to do at the time of multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls. But, Brink said, he is pretty sure he knows the bill's fate.

"I have a long history of patroning St. Jude bills -- bills of lost causes,'' Brink said.

Last session, Brink patroned a bill that called for raising the cigarette tax for Kaine. It died. Three sessions ago, he patroned a bill that called for a sales tax increase on cars for Kaine. It, too, died.

Get the picture?

This year, Kaine's tax proposal has largely been met with skepticism and criticism from members of both parties. Republicans Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell and House Speaker Bill Howell have said it has no chance of passing.

Brink doesn't seem to mind.

"I'll march up the hill again,'' he said. "It's an attempt to put another issue on the table. I'm glad to do it -- to put issues on the table. We've got to look as many as strategies as we can."

Over in the General Assembly's other chamber, the sponor of Kaine's income tax bill is Chuck Colgan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the first legislator to propose eliminating the car tax back in the 1990s. Yes, even before Gov. Jim Gilmore made it a central part of his 1997 gubernatorial campaign. Colgan suggested replacing the car tax revenue with a 1.5 cent increase in the sales tax. The bill failed, but Colgan quickly heard from Virginians eager to see the car tax gone.

Colgan said he then approached both candidates for the upcoming 1997 gubernatorial campaign. First, he went to Don Beyer, the Democratic nominee. "I said, 'Don, you want to win? Come out in favor of my car tax bill.'" But Beyer, who owns car dealerships, was concerned that if he backed the idea, it might be seen as a conflict of interest, since eliminating the tax could lead people to buy more cars.

Then, Colgan said he brought the idea to Gilmore, the Republican candidate. "I said, 'Jim, you running for governor? Get on this car tax bill. I'm getting overwhelming support out there for it."

Gilmore backed the idea and the rest, as they say, is history. But, Colgan said, unlike Gilmore, he has always supported creating a new revenue stream to replace the tax. And, he said, he believe's Kaine's idea of an income tax increase is a good one.

"We hadn't had an increase in the income tax rate in 38 years. I'd be willing to bet there's not another state in the union that has held fast on that rate for that long," said Colgan, who said fellow legislators may reject the idea, but he has heard already from constituents who support it.

Still, when Colgan heard Brink's joke about St. Jude, he laughed heartily. "So am I!" he said. "The patron saint of hopeless causes."

By Anita Kumar  |  December 28, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate , Timothy M. Kaine  
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