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Kaine, Allen offer dueling economic plans at Reston forum

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George Allen and Timothy M. Kaine offered the same Northern Virginia audience different economic prescriptions Thursday, breaking on Social Security reform, Internet sales taxes and defense cuts.

The two former governors, who are squaring off to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D) in this year’s Virginia marquee race, made back-to-back appearances at a forum sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council at Microsoft’s Reston offices. Kaine and Allen were on stage together only for a photo, but separately they fielded similar questions.

On a day when most of the political world was captivated by the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling, the technology executives wanted to hear from the candidates on issues that hit close to home.

In their first appearance since the primary this month, both men bragged about the companies attracted to Virginia during their tenures as governor and about their close relationships with the technology industry. The two spoke generally about the need for a simpler tax code with lower rates for companies and individuals, although they differed on specifics.

They also touted their ability to work across party lines. Allen repeatedly mentioned his work with his “really good friend” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on technology issues when he was in the Senate. And Kaine said: “You see Democrats who will demonize business. I don’t do that. You see Republicans who demonize labor. I don’t do that.”

But they contrasted sharply on the issue of budget “sequestration” and the massive defense cuts that loom if Congress is unable to strike a bipartisan agreement this year.

Kaine said the Senate’s “Gang of Six” — which is led in part by a close ally of his, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) — “should work very hard to put out a plan” to solve the fiscal impasse in the next few months, to help spur discussion on Capitol Hill and in the presidential race. “It will be the one bipartisan idea on the table, and it will have enormous power,” Kaine said.

Allen said sequestration — across-the-board cuts set to hit in January — should be “reversed as quickly as possible,” but he did not say how he would address the pending cuts in the short term.

“The only long-term reform that’s going to work is a balanced budget [amendment]. . . . Otherwise you’re going to get more of these Band-Aid approaches,” Allen said.

The Senate hopefuls were asked their views on whether companies selling goods online should have to pay sales taxes in states where they don’t have offices or stores. Allen was opposed to changing the law.

“My view is we ought to stick with the foundational principle, which is if you don’t have a physical presence in the state . . . then you should not be compelled to collect and remit sales taxes,” Allen said.

Kaine said: “We’re going to have a more vigorous sales tax [collection] for Internet sales. . . . I do think, long term, we have to find some kind of strategy that would produce more equity on brick-and-mortar sellers and those who sell the same goods.”

On immigration, Kaine called for “significant visa reforms” that would make it easier for foreign college students to work in the United States once they obtain degrees. Kaine also repeated his support for the DREAM Act, which would give young illegal immigrants a chance to stay in the country under certain conditions.

Allen didn’t mention the DREAM Act, which he has opposed, but he did address retaining foreign students.

“When we have graduates and they’re graduating from our engineering schools, if they have a job waiting for them, attach a green card to their diploma,” Allen suggested.

Asked about Social Security reform, Kaine said he was wary of raising the retirement age, because workers who do manual labor might have trouble continuing to do their jobs as they get older. Instead, Kaine said, he would like to see the cap on income subject to payroll taxes raised.

Allen said he thought it was possible to get an agreement on raising the retirement age.

“I do think people making a million dollars don’t need to be getting Social Security,” Allen added, an idea he called an “income adjustment.”

On the local front, Kaine praised the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors for restoring President Teresa Sullivan to her post after initially pushing her to resign. “The board did absolutely the right thing to put Terry Sullivan back in as president,” Kaine said. “It was a mistake to remove her without a meeting.”

Allen was more circumspect.

“Obviously, it was not handled the way it should have been handled,” he said. “I d like to see us united and strong. Obviously, that could’ve been handled better.”

Then Allen added, to laughter, “But let’s all unite behind the U-Va. football team.”

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