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NATIONAL ORGANIZATION WORKS AGAINST TAX INCREASES FOR SCHOOLS: Effects Felt in Alabama and Oregon

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"For too long, Virginia has failed to pay its fair share for public schools, putting pressure on local governments to raise property taxes to pick up the slack,"

A national organization is making a name for itself in working against tax increases that would benefit schools. The Citizens for a Sound Economy, led by former House majority leader Dick Armey, has seen success in fighting back tax increases for additional education spending.

In Alabama, the group worked to defeat a $1.2 billion tax increase package proposed by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) that would have helped erase the state’s budget shortfall, shifted the tax burden from the poor to the rich, and improved public education in the state. Instead, the state cut 88 percent of funding for new textbooks and eliminated funding for teacher professional development and school technology. By tapping into a rainy-day fund, the state was able to postpone laying off teachers and support staff, but it may have to revisit the issue during the next school year.

Now Citizens for a Sound Economy has a new target. In Oregon, lawmakers approved a 13 percent increase for education programs that will be paid for in part by a $792 million tax increase. Thanks in no small part to Armey’s organization, which led a drive to collect 50,000 signatures on a petition calling for a voter referendum on the tax increase, the spending increase is now in doubt. The legislature’s tax increase package is now slated to go before voters on Feb. 3 in a special election to determine the future of Oregon’s schoolchildren. If the tax increase is defeated, automatic cuts in education, social services, and public safety spending will be enacted.

Some proponents of the tax increase say that although Citizens for a Sound Economy tries to pass itself off as a grassroots organization, it is really advocating on behalf of big business and its allies. Armey, meanwhile, claims that his group has 12,000 members in Oregon and that the campaign against the tax increase is led by members within the state.

New Tax Package by Virginia Governor Would Provide $715 Million for Schools

A new tax reform plan by Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D) could very well be the Citizens for a Sound Economy’s next target. Gov. Warner’s plan would generate $1 billion in new state money, including $715 million for basic school aid, by increasing the state sales tax by one cent, raising taxes on cigarettes, and on individuals who earn over $100,000 annually.

“For too long, Virginia has failed to pay its fair share for public schools, putting pressure on local governments to raise property taxes to pick up the slack,” Warner said. “At the same time, as Virginia grows, more and more students are entering our schools every year at all levels, from preschool to graduate school.”

Warner’s plan would reduce the tax on food and groceries from 4 cents to 2.5 cents, but raise Virginia’s lowest-in-the-nation tax on cigarettes from 2.5 cents to 25 cents. The plan would close corporate tax loopholes, eliminate the estate tax for working farms and family-owned businesses, and eliminate the property tax on automobiles by 2008.

“The message is simple,” Warner said. “We must address structural problems within the budget. But again, we find an opportunity: to make the system of collecting taxes more fair, and to actually give two-thirds of Virginia taxpayers a break.”

In addition to increased funding for schools, Warner says his plan would put an end to budget shortfalls for the rest of the decade. Currently, the state is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget.
According to the Washington Post, a number of the consultants who worked with the anti-tax movement in Alabama are either located in or got their start in the anti-tax movement in Virginia. The article stated that these individuals “will certainly be putting these skills to work once again in the upcoming battle in Virginia.”

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