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Consorting with the enemy can work

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The chairman of Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee had been crafting a bill for months that would clean up the state’s fiscal mess. The legislation tracked well with the senator’s record for fiscal responsibility, but it would be a hard pill for his fellow Republicans to swallow.

At the same time, the Democratic governor unveiled a proposal for the largest overhaul of the state tax code in 40 years.

It would not have surprised people if the state senator, John Chichester, had felt a surge of ego and decided to fight the governor, Mark Warner. After all, Chichester’s package was far more ambitious, calling for $3.8 billion in new taxes over two years, as opposed to the governor’s $1.1 billion. And the two played for opposite teams.

But Chichester decided to collaborate with Warner.

To understand what that means, you have to realize how much Virginians hate taxes. But Chichester is an old-fashioned conservative who believes that the state has to pay its bills, and his reasoning was simple: Virginians approve tax hikes about once per generation, so this was his only shot.

Meanwhile, Warner had spent his first two years as governor cutting spending in every area except K-12 education. He reduced expenses by $6 billion and cut 3,000 jobs. At that point, he simply had to raise revenues. His plan won over the state Chamber of Commerce and AARP, but his biggest ally was Chichester.

The two politicians divided and conquered, with Chichester taking on the state legislators and Warner taking on the public.

Last year’s compromise bill turned out to be a lot smaller than Chichester’s original plan but larger than Warner’s ...and it went a lot further than most people thought possible.

To make something happen, check your ego at the door.

— Adapted from “Solidarity on Solvency,” Alan Greenblatt, Governing.

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