Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Creigh Deeds' weak record
A few weeks ago in this space, I told you about state Sen. John Edwards’ proposed run for attorney general of Virginia, and the Roanoke Democrat's unfailingly liberal record in Richmond. This week, I’ll turn my attention to one of Edwards’ probable rivals for the Democratic nomination for attorney general: Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Hot Springs. Deeds was elected to the Senate in 2001, after 10 years in the House of Delegates. His district goes from Rockbridge County all the way to Charlottesville, and includes Bath and Alleghany counties, along with Buena Vista and Covington.
Like Edwards, Deeds was part of Gov. Mark Warner’s raid on the collective purse this past spring. Like Edwards, he voted for the largest tax increase in Virginia history only because there was not an even larger tax increase still on the table. Deeds supported the Senate’s $3.4 billion family budget killer, and supported it as long as it was a viable option.
Deeds’ unconcern for his constituents’ tax burden does not make him remarkable in the Virginia Senate, where both parties seem to send their most ardent tax raisers. However, Deeds’ backing of tax increases does not stop at the state level. Indeed, a substantial portion of Deeds’ work in Richmond involves making it easier for other jurisdictions in Virginia to raise taxes.
In 2004, Deeds was chief patron of 36 General Assembly bills. Weeding out the more or less standard waste-of-time measures, such as resolutions celebrating someone or something, we are left with 18 substantive pieces of legislation. Three of these were designed to allow a part of his district to either raise or impose taxes. SB 14, for example, permits the town of Iron Gate “to impose the local consumer utility tax on mobile phones by adopting a local ordinance on or after July 1, 2004.” SB 374 would have allowed Nelson County “to levy admissions tax on all classes of events, thereby removing existing limitations.” This bill was tabled by the Senate Finance Committee and will have to be introduced again in 2005.
A companion bill, SB 375, would have permitted Nelson County to impose a transient occupancy tax. Senate Finance also continued this bill to 2005. Given the sheer joy that Senate Finance Committee members seemed to take this year in advancing any bill that raised taxes on anything, it is a tribute to Sen. Deeds’ legislative skill and influence that his bills were basically ignored.
On the plus side, there was one tax that Deeds was willing to see lifted. SB 379 would have eliminated “the $20 tax on a marriage license if the parties to the application have received four hours of counseling from a person authorized to perform marriages or from a professional counselor.” In a year in which Deeds supported tax increases averaging $200 for each Virginian, his willingness to waive $20 hardly counts as generosity. Moreover, by requiring four hours of counseling, Deeds is “rewarding” taxpayers at a rate of $5 per hour, below minimum wage in Virginia.
Just for the record, even this pretended largesse was too much for Senate Finance. The committee killed this bill altogether.
Besides his work on taxes, Deeds also introduced a constitutional amendment this past session. SJ3 would have taken the job of drawing congressional and General Assembly district lines out of the hands of elected officials and given this crucial constitutional task to unelected bureaucrats. Ignoring the will of the people as expressed in elections, the Deeds amendment would have given equal weight on the commission to both Republicans and Democrats.
In another example of Deeds’ stunning influence with his fellow General Assembly members, he did not manage to get a single co-patron for his constitutional amendment bill, which died in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.
Indeed, Creigh Deeds had a remarkably unproductive session in Richmond in 2004. Of his 18 substantive bills, one was incorporated into another bill, eight were continued to 2005, and seven were killed outright.
Only two of Deeds’ bills became law: the bill to allow Iron Gate to tax mobile phones; and a bill that, among other things, would “allow a person operating a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped to signal a right turn or pull to the right by extending the right hand and arm in a horizontal position straight from and level with the shoulder.” It’s not that this is a bad proposal; it just sounds as though Deeds got the idea for this bill while reading a children’s book with a title like, “Billy the Bicycle Goes to Town.”
If this is what the Democratic Party considers the stuff of suitability for statewide office, the Republicans could have a great year in 2005.