Friday, April 2, 2010

Chamber of Commerce legislative roundup draws party distinctions

Roanoke Chamber 2010 Annual Legislative Roundup

Tough decisions, bleak economic outlook and political party distinctions were all a part of the Chamber of Commerce 2010 Annual Legislative Wrap-up Thursday morning. The question and answer period drew competing visions between the Democratic and Republican representatives.

Bill Cleaveland (R-17) serving his first term quoted 49 year Bedford delegate Lacy Putney, “I’ve never seen it like this before.” Cleaveland said everyone is taking a hit. He’d like to see governmental reform so Virginia will be well positioned for an economic rebound.

Transportation funding was the luck of the draw for delegate Charles Poindexter (R-9) of Glade Hill. Transportation needs a long-term vision with natural gas and hydrogen vehicles. The successful offshore drilling bill this year needs to be backed up by assurances that Virginia will get the same royalties as garnered from the Gulf of Mexico.

Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-11) added that there was little discussion in the session on transportation other than the offshore drilling bill that he also supported. Ware said, “that everybody’s business in here knows that [transportation] is an integral part of doing business.” Ware was not opposed to tolls.

Ware said Virginians will eventually realize that government needs to generate additional revenue to fund core services.

On privatizing rest stops Senator John Edwards (D-21) said, “there is no reason that can’t be done.” Edwards pointed out that commerce develops naturally at highway interchanges.

Senator Ralph Smith (R-22) spoke about starting his business in 1966 and remembers asking, “what is the sales tax rate in the spring of 1966?” Smith said that the answer given him was “zero.” He is in favor of raising the fuel tax only if it is offset by efficiencies. Smith referenced the Roanoke City’s meals tax proposal saying “you go on and on and on … until government is providing everything.”

On a question about raising the state sales tax Smith opined that just another penny will “begin a rational for the next one.” Ware countered saying that no politician wants to run on raising taxes but rhetorically asked, “who suffers if I do or don’t do something.” Localities are forced to take up the slack. Ware favors increasing the state sales tax.

Edwards wincing suggested localities could raise the real estate tax while acknowledging its unpopularity. He and Ware both favored Roanoke City’s planned 2% meals tax for education that would sunset in two years. Edwards would support a regional sales tax as well. Poindexter said that his constituents were against any tax increase 7 to 1.

On funding education Cleaveland believed there were other important core issues needing attention too saying, “we can’t patchwork this stuff on one hot item that comes up at one time.” He would not look at any tax increase until citizens were assured they were getting their money’s worth now.

Following the meeting Joyce Waugh President of the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce took the position that priorities should be set and every other alternative looked at before raising taxes. Waugh remarked on how different each legislator’s opinions were when it came to a municipality’s right to consider any broader forms of taxation.

On the temporary 2% meals tax Waugh admitted that “this was one of those odd times when [the Chamber] didn’t take a position … but would prefer there not be a particular industry put upon for that purpose.” She thought that long-term the hospitality industry’s ability to attract conferences and groups would be harmed.

There may be two special sessions called by Governor McDonnell. One for transportation and another for government structure.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Politics, State Politics

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