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Va. GOP Delegates Rev Up Car-Tax Relief Campaign

"We pledge now to end this interruption and honor our commitments to the people of Virginia," Callahan said. He said the tax could be phased out over six years.

The move caught Warner and his allies in the Republican-controlled Senate by surprise and threatened to ignite the still-simmering tensions of last year, when the legislature battled for months over whether to increase taxes.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), left, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) say they want to honor the promise lawmakers made to voters about phasing out the car tax. (Steve Helber -- AP)

Virginia's Car Tax

Virginia House Republican leaders have revived debate on one of their party's major issues.

GOP Proposal: The Republicans promised yesterday to undo legislation that has stopped the car-tax relief plan from reaching its original goal of paying for all of the tax on the first $20,000 of a car's value.

The Car Tax: It's a local tax, not a state tax. It helps local governments pay for the services they provide.

The Cut: Virginia's state government pays the local governments so they can reduce the tax on vehicle owners without cutting services.

The Program: The program to cut the car tax was launched by then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) in 1998. It was increased gradually during his term until it covered 70 percent of car-tax payments. Last year, the assembly agreed to cap the amount the state reimburses local governments.

The Politics: The GOP proposal revives one of the state party's strongest issues at the start of a big election year. It sets up a debate on what the state should do with the additional money coming in as the economy strengthens.

_____Virginia Government_____
Van Landingham Stuck to Activist Roots (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
House GOP Eyes Rollback of Va. Car Tax (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2005)
Court-Appointed Va. Attorneys May Get Raise (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2005)
Va. House Endorses Measure To Tighten Mine Safety Rules (The Washington Post, Jan 24, 2005)
Full Report

In a statement, Warner said the House Republican proposal would "almost certainly condemn us to repeat the same mistakes we've spent three years trying to fix. In one stroke, it would create an entitlement that would quickly grow to be larger than everything we now spend on all our state colleges and universities combined."

Warner said the proposal appears to be the result of "election year pressures."

Senate leaders said the new Republican proposal would unravel last year's carefully crafted compromise. "It would essentially negate half of what we did," said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Stafford), chairman of the Finance Committee, said the proposal will not fare well when it reaches his chamber. "I think the possibility of it advancing is probably remote," he said.

The original car-tax promise helped Republicans capture both chambers of the legislature in 1999. But the promise quickly became a costly one that lawmakers found difficult to keep as the nation's economy turned sour.

Last year, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in both chambers agreed to cap the car-tax relief program at $950 million a year, which allows the state to pay for about 70 percent of every car-tax bill.

Howell and Callahan said car-tax relief would not begin growing again until 2006. And they said continued growth in the state's economy would be enough to pay for the larger tax cut.

Gilmore urged Warner and lawmakers to make good on the promise he made to voters.

"It was always a good public policy, and it still is," Gilmore said. He lashed out at Warner and Senate Republicans who he said have put their own desire for larger government above the desires of the people who sent them to Richmond.

"It's quite simple: The spenders just want other priorities besides the public," Gilmore said.

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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