By Adam Bitely — The transportation plan that passed through Virginia’s General Assembly this past weekend has a major constitutional problem. The plan, heavily supported by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, was the largest tax increase in Virginia history.
The constitutional problem with the bill results from the way that the sales tax is increased. People that live in Northern Virginia or in the Hampton Roads area will see a higher sales tax than people living in the rest of Virginia. Those two regions have more transportation needs than the rest of the state so McDonnell advocated them paying a higher tax. But, the Virginia constitution only allows for a uniform tax code, which this plan violates.
As Paul Goldman and Norman Leahy wrote in the Washington Post, “Virginia’s constitution is clear that the General Assembly can impose only uniform taxes across the state for similar activities. But the bill that emerged from the House-Senate conference committee last weekend upsets the historic balance between localities and state government; it contains new provisions about taxation, some of which would effectively set up a two-tier system for residents in certain parts of the state. It’s difficult to see how some of these provisions could survive legal challenge.”
Article 10, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution states, “All taxes shall be levied and collected under general laws and shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax.”
And while that section also allows for a difference in tax rates between municipalities — critically, that provision only applies to real estate taxes and personal property, not to sales taxes.
Even more troubling than this clear constitutional violation is that McDonnell and the supporters of this bill in the legislature pushed the legislation in a style accustomed to Nancy Pelosi ala Obamacare. Before Virginians and probably most legislators who were not involved in the conference committee could even read the bill to understand the various tax increases McDonnell was calling for, the House and Senate had adopted legislation that was written during the conference committee and sent the bill to McDonnell’s desk.
Goldman and Leahy wrote, “This flies in the face of long-standing Virginia practice, dating to the Jefferson Manual on legislative order, that legislation emerging from conference committee must not have surprise elements. Conference committee bills must be voted on, up or down, without amendment; the rule is intended to protect taxpayers from last-minute backroom deals.”
When Bob McDonnell laid out his priorities for a transportation plan in a 2009 campaign commercial he said he would not consider raising taxes. Now, Bob McDonnell has ushered through the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history and violated the Constitution of Virginia along the way.
Somewhere in Washington, D.C. Nancy Pelosi must be upset that Bob McDonnell has stolen her playbook.
Or perhaps she is happy, because when the dust settled on this matter, McDonnell had expanded the size and scope of government. Now all McDonnell has to hope for is that he can replicate the Obama administration’s success on the Obamacare Supreme Court case in front of the Virginia Supreme Court to make his blatantly unconstitutional tax hike deal constitutional.
Adam Bitely is the Editor-in-Chief of NetRightDaily.com. You can follow NetRightDaily on Twitter at @NetRightDaily.