John Michael Wolfe, State Delegate, District 41 (Part 2)

John Michael Wolfe, State Delegate, District 41 (Part 2)

14. Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?

Some people support giving counties the taxing authority that cities currently have because this would allow counties to broaden their tax base by raising more revenue while allowing them to decrease real estate taxes. On the surface, this appears to be a good idea; however, it is only a back door to raising taxes on county residents. If given the same taxing authority of cities, counties would raise other taxes more than they would cut property taxes because they are seeking this additional taxing authority to obtain more tax revenue from the citizens. The solution to our problems in Fairfax County is not raising our taxes, but rather, getting more services from the state for the taxes that we send to Richmond. Therefore, I oppose giving counties the same taxing authority as cities.

15. What is the appropriate state and local tax rate for cigarettes?

I support raising Virginia's tobacco tax because we have the lowest tax rate in the country. Virginia is the sixth largest tobacco producing state and second largest tobacco manufacturing state. Many states and localities are raising a great deal of revenue by taxing cigarettes produced from tobacco grown and\or manufactured in Virginia. Rather than allowing these states and localities to reap this tax windfall, Virginia should reap this windfall. Instead of taxing cigarettes at the point of sale like most states and localities do, I propose taxing tobacco when farmers sell it to manufacturers or when manufacturers process the tobacco into cigarettes. Rather than collecting a small tax only on cigarettes purchased in Virginia, my proposal would allow Virginia to reap taxes from the cigarettes that are produced from tobacco grown in Virginia or processed into cigarettes regardless of where they are sold in the world. This proposal would raise far more revenue than a simple tax on Virginia consumers of cigarettes

16. What is the appropriate state and local tax rate for gasoline?

Currently, Virginia's gasoline tax is one of the lowest in the country. We are ranked 40th in the nation. Since we have a major need for increased funding for transportation in Virginia, I support an increase in the state gasoline tax. The current tax is 17.5 cents per gallon, and it was last raised in 1986. I support raising the state gasoline tax to 20 cents per gallon, and I will support another small increase in the state gasoline tax five years in the future. It does not make sense to increase gasoline taxes every 17 years and allow a serious transportation funding shortfall to occur. Gasoline taxes should be raised when transportation funds are needed to prevent future problems not when we already have a serious transportation problem. I do not support the raising of local gasoline taxes. Virtually everyone can attest to the fact that gasoline is a great deal cheaper, often by 20 to 30 cents per gallon, in adjacent counties to the south and west of Fairfax County. Since we are already paying a great deal more for gasoline than other parts of the state, the citizens of Fairfax County should not be subjected to a local gasoline tax increase on top of the state gasoline tax increase. In the past, the state has raided the transportation funds to pay for other projects. I support a constitutional amendment to prevent the state from raiding the Transportation Trust Fund. All gasoline tax revenues should be used for transportation projects!

17. How would you restructure the tax code in Virginia?

We have had a great deal of difficulty in the past two years with our state's budget. Some would like to blame the tax code; however, these difficulties were due to the declining economy and poor budget forecasting, not a structural problem with our tax code. Virginia is a low tax state, and I support keeping Virginia a low tax state because this helps our state to develop and produce jobs. Therefore, I would largely keep the current tax system with a few modifications. I support an increase in the state gasoline tax and tobacco tax, and I support the repeal of the estate tax because it raises relatively little revenue and serves only to penalize success. By repealing the estate tax, we will be able to encourage more wealthy Americans to move to Virginia and invest some or all of their wealth in the state which will help to create jobs.

18. How should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

General fund revenues for the 2002-2004 biennium total $22.2 billion with individual income taxes ($14.0 billion) and corporate income taxes ($617.1 million) accounting for 66% of the total revenue collected. Currently, only one third of the revenue sent by localities to the state is returned to the localities or is spent by the state on behalf of the localities. Since the majority of the money that is returned to the localities is earmarked for education, Fairfax County with its high Composite Index receives only approximately 20 cents for each dollar that it sends to the state. Rather than have some counties receiving only a small fraction of each tax dollar returned in services and other counties receiving far more services than they pay in revenue, I propose a fairer system in which all counties would collect income taxes. The counties would keep half of the taxes for local use and send half of the taxes to the state. Although my proposal seems fair, it would be difficult to enact due to opposition from counties currently receiving more services than they pay in taxes. For now, my proposal is a starting point for debate regarding tax fairness in the General Assembly, and it is my hope that my proposal will be enacted in the future to bring tax fairness to the state.

19. What proposals do you have for mitigating the effects of soaring property values and related taxes? Do you endorse the 5 percent cap on property tax increases? If you support a cap on property tax increases, please name at least one service provided by state or local government that you currently use that you would be prepared to live without.

Our property values are increasing because Fairfax County is a desirable place to live. In fact, I believe it is the best place to live in the world. A rise in property values does not necessarily require a rise in property taxes. Property taxes have been rising rapidly to pay for services because the state does not provide Northern Virginia with its fair share of services for the taxes that we pay. I support a 5% cap on property tax increases to prevent runaway taxing and spending by local governments and to put pressure on Richmond to provide Northern Virginia with its fair share of funding. If local governments in Northern Virginia simply raise property taxes to pay for services that the state should pay for, the state will never give Northern Virginia its fair share of services. I will work with all elected officials in Northern Virginia to put pressure on the current governor, future governor candidates, and the General Assembly to deal with Northern Virginia in a fair manner.

I support a cap on property taxes, and I am NOT willing to live without any services that the state currently provides. If we are able to obtain our fair share of services from the state for the tax revenue that we provide to the state, we will not need to live without any services. Yes, I believe we can place a cap on our property taxes and actually increase the services that we receive from the state. It will only require supporting candidates for governor and electing delegates and senators from Northern Virginia who are committed to getting Northern Virginia its fair share of services.

20. After redistricting, Northern Virginia now has a critical mass in the General Assembly, but so far that doesn't appear to have translated into additional political influence for the region. Why? What will you do to increase the influence of Northern Virginia in Richmond?

Our political influence should have changed after we obtained critical mass in the General Assembly. This lack of change is one of the major reasons that I am running for office. The Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates, Vincent F. Callahan Jr., is a Republican from Fairfax. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, John H. Chichester, is a Republican from Stafford. The governor, Mark Warner, is a Democrat from Northern Virginia. The current Delegate for the 41st district, Jim Dillard, is a Republican who is a senior member of the Appropriations committee, the Chair of the Education Committee, and the eighth ranking member in the House of Delegates.  With all of these powerful people in Richmond from the northern part of Virginia, we should have been able to change things in Richmond; however, our situation did not improve because the people mentioned above do not want things to change.

For over one hundred years, the Democratic Party controlled the General Assembly. Therefore, in the past, we could have blamed the Democratic Party for failing to meet the needs of Northern Virginia. The Republican Party is now in complete control of the General Assembly. Therefore, we must lay the blame at the feet of both major political parties and our local representatives in Richmond.

To increase the influence of Northern Virginia in Richmond, I would work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents in Northern Virginia to form a Northern Virginia voting block that will work across political lines to obtain Northern Virginia’s fair share of services from the state. I would help to elect candidates in future elections that will put Northern Virginia first when it comes to their representation in Richmond and work to defeat candidates or delegates who refuse to put Northern Virginia first. If possible, I would also seek to build alliances with legislators from other parts of the state to help Northern Virginia.

21. Do you favor the repeal of the Dillon Rule? Why or Why not?

States are classified as Home Rule states or Dillon States. Currently, there are 45 Home Rule states and 5 Dillon States, and Virginia is the strictest adherent to Dillon Rule. Dillon Rule states have local governments that are limited to the authority that is expressly granted to them by the state government. Opponents argue that repeal of the Dillon Rule will result in improving the quality of life in localities by allowing local government to set all tax rates, to create new taxes, to develop local solutions to local problems, and to better control development. Proponents of the Dillon Rule argue that the state legislature acts to oversee and restrain local governments from raising taxes or imposing unreasonable regulations. Proponents also argue that having consistent laws across the state is good for business and economic growth. Since Virginia is one of the richest states in the country, I do not favor repealing the Dillon Rule because I feel that it has helped Virginia's economy to develop by providing the state with uniform laws throughout the commonwealth. However, I propose that the legislature should attempt to work more closely with local governments to help localities to develop local solutions to local problems.

22. What is right and wrong with Virginia's current laws governing abortion? Would you support any changes?

Abortion has been one of the most divisive issues since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. I have listened to many abortion debates over the years with passionate arguments for and against on both sides of the issue; however, I have never heard a solution proposed to breach the impasse. I have formulated a solution to the abortion problem; however, I do not have an adequate amount of space to provide the solution as an answer on this questionnaire. I have posted my detailed discussion and solution to the abortion problem on my website. I encourage voters to visit my website to learn more about this issue.

23. Would you support allowing localities to ban weapons from public buildings?

I support allowing localities to ban weapons from government owned buildings. In order to guarantee the safety of public employees and visitors, no weapons should be allowed in government owned buildings. I do not support allowing localities to ban weapons from private property used by the public, such as stores, restaurants and stadiums. The owners of these establishments must set their own policies regarding weapons; however, I support allowing localities to determine the penalties for violating a weapons ban on private property when the owner files a complaint alleging a weapons violation.

24. The state provides only a fraction of the funding for local schools that it should given requirements under the "Standards of Quality." How would you address this?

Any increase in funding from the state to all local school districts will require an increase in taxes paid to the state, and this could cause more damage to Fairfax County’s schools than it would help. If the state fully funded schools for the Standards of

Quality, we would simply lower our county taxes and increase our state taxes without solving our education problem. The current problem for Northern Virginia is not that the state only pays a fraction of the cost for the requirements under the “Standards of Quality.” The problem is that the state uses the Composite Index to take Northern Virginia tax dollars and spend them in other parts of the state. While Fairfax must pay 75.18% of the cost for the Standards of Quality, other school districts only pay as little as 20% of the cost. Thus, Virginia is paying only approximately 25% of Fairfax County’s cost while it pays as much as 80% of the cost in other localities. The use of the current Composite Index will result in approximately $700 million dollars of Fairfax County’s taxes heading to other parts of the state to fund other school systems this year. To solve our education funding problem in for Northern Virginia, I would fight to change the Composite Index. At this time, the state is dependent on Northern Virginia tax dollars to fund other school districts. Thus, it is not possible to make radical change overnight. Therefore, I support a gradual change in the Composite Index so that after 10 years the state will provide 50% of the funds for the Standards of Quality to all school districts.

25. How would you rate the Standards of Learning tests and what improvements still need to be made?

I fully support the Standards of Learning tests. In fact, I believe the SOL tests should be gradually toughened over time to make a Virginia HS diploma the gold standard for the country. I also support expanding the SOL tests to include grades 1 and 2 so that we can identify struggling children as soon as possible. In the past, the state governments would point to an increasing graduation rate as a measure of the improvement in education in their state. Unfortunately, we have learned that some students graduated even when they could not read their own HS diploma. Tests like the SOL and Regents Exams in New York are necessary to determine which students have truly been educated by the schools and not simply graduated.

26. Should local school boards be allowed to ban all weapons on school property?

Local school boards should be allowed to ban all weapons on school property; however, school boards must be reasonable when they enforce their ban. In other parts of the country, there have been horror stories with innocent students being found guilty of possessing "weapons" when they had no intent to possess a weapon. For example, if a student goes on a picnic with his or her family on the weekend and a knife that was used for the picnic was left in the family car by accident, the student should not be punished for bringing a weapon to school. Weapon penalties should vary depending on the infraction and type of weapon. If the student is carrying or brandishing a weapon, the student should receive a stronger punishment than simply for having a weapon in their locker or car.

27. Characterize the crisis in Virginia institutions of higher learning and what efforts you recommend in the General Assembly to shore up the quality of Virginia's public colleges and universities.

Higher education was hit hard by enormous budget cuts in the past 2 years that required unacceptable tuition increases. At George Mason University, the tuition has been raised a total of 52% in the past 2 years for undergraduates. For graduate students at George Mason, the increase was 38% over the past 2 years. As a current PHD student at George Mason, I can attest to the hardships that these tuition increases have had on the student body and parents. The state budget was balanced without a tax increase in the past 2 years; however, higher education bore an unreasonable burden in keeping the budget balanced. Tuition increases at state colleges and universities have had the same effect as a tax increase on the students and their parents. I do not support any cuts in funding for higher education in 2004 and 2005, and as the economy improves, I support restoring the cuts from the past 2 years.