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Posted at 3:41 PM ET, 02/18/2011

Senate Democrats strip local tax from districts of anti-tax opponents

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

The Virginia Senate has adopted a bill that would add four counties to a lengthy list of counties that are allowed to impose a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms rather than a tax of no more than 2 percent, as generally required by state law.

However, in a bit of partisan point-scoring, the bill also would repeal authorization for a series of 23 towns and counties to impose a hotel room tax at all, a move that would cut local taxes by about $300 million.

Democrats added the tax repeal to the bill on the Senate floor as a way of forcing an uncomfortable vote on conservative Republicans who routinely vote against allowing counties they do not represent to impose higher hotel taxes.

The tax repeal provision targets counties represented by the Senate's most anti-tax members, and Democrats thus forced those members to either oppose a tax decrease for their people or agree to a potentially devastating cut in revenue for their local governments. Earlier in the session, the group had opposed a bill to extend the time that Arlington County can apply a higher hotel and motel tax from 2013 to 2015.

The debate was a bit of partisan brinksmanship unusual in the upper chamber, which generally abides by an unwritten code of collegiality. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that the local tax will be repealed anywhere.

That's because the bill passed by the Senate is different than the version of the same proposal approved by the House, and the measure will now head to a conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers. Democrats always knew that the tax repeal and its deep impact on local governments would be stripped out in conference.

But Democrats said they thought they had made an important point about abiding by the wishes of local governments to allow them to raise their own taxes.

Upon passage of the bill Friday, with all 22 Democrats in favor and all 18 Republicans opposed, the Democratic caucus released a statement accusing Republicans of voting against a $300 million tax cut.

"A number of Senate Republicans showed their true tax beliefs today on the Senate floor. They promote tax cuts on the campaign trail and occasionally vote for tax cuts for other districts. However, when it comes to their districts, some of them would rather receive tax revenue than cut taxes," said Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Communications Director Keiana Page.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) insisted throughout the debate that he was merely offering the conservative Republicans the opportunity to lower taxes for their own districts, since they were so unwilling to allow other districts the ability to raise their own.

Republicans protested, accusing Saslaw of attempting to punish them for their dissent on the Arlington bill.

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said he could not vote for the tax repeal, which included his own Harrisonburg district, because some local governments have issued bonds that rely on the revenue to pay for annual debt service.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 18, 2011; 3:41 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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Next: Va. parties draw battles lines around Wisconsin

Comments

It's official -- Democrats think Virginians are stupid.

Posted by: dblu2 | February 19, 2011 2:41 AM | Report abuse

It's official -- Democrats think Virginians are stupid.

Posted by: dblu2 | February 19, 2011 2:42 AM | Report abuse

It's official -- Democrats think Virginians are stupid.

Posted by: dblu2 | February 19, 2011 2:42 AM | Report abuse

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