Va. Budget Talks Focus on Cost of Car-Tax Relief
And ending the car-tax promise that Gilmore made in 1997 could provide political ammunition to anyone hoping to unseat incumbents. In fact, that's exactly what Gilmore expects will happen if the legislature reverses his pledge.
"I'm not interested in leading any kind of charge," Gilmore said. "But I believe that it would be appropriate for people to come forward and run on a proper platform that stands by the people."
Gilmore said car-tax relief has been a tremendous benefit to the state's residents. He resents attempts to cast the program as the reason for the state's problems.
" 'More tax cuts are bad.' That's the approach they're taking," Gilmore said of the Republican senators. "Our goal was to keep money in the pockets of working people. It did that. It still does that."
The state's financial crisis is caused by an unwillingness to cut the size and scope of government, the former governor said.
"Seems to me, then, that we need spending reform," he said.
Gilmore's comments enrage politicians in both parties.
Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), the chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the House, said the state's budget problems "highlight what an irresponsible budget he left and an irresponsible campaign he ran on." Moran called the prospect of a second Gilmore candidacy "extremely ironic."
Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) said he would "look forward to the opportunity" to once again debate the issue of the car tax with Gilmore.
"Everyone was hoodwinked by the initial phaseout of the car tax," Stolle said. "On a very superficial level, the idea of getting rid of the car tax was a great idea. It was a good political opportunity. But on a policy level, on an implementation level, it's been a disaster for the state of Virginia."
Stolle, Chichester and other senators helped lead the first revolt against Gilmore's car-tax cut in 2001, arguing then that the state couldn't afford to pay more than 47.5 percent of each car-tax bill. Gilmore won by waiting the senators out but helped plunge the state into a stalemate over required adjustments to the budget.
This time, in the middle of an even more serious budget impasse, it appears the Senate might win.
"What has changed . . . is the identification that the promises made were pure fiction," said Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City). "Now people understand the unadulterated, pure facts."
Tax opponents dispute that. They say the public hates the car tax just as much now as they did when Gilmore was running for office. The senators are winning, they said, simply because Gilmore is gone.
"No one with authority can stand up for it now. Warner won't, and [House Speaker William J.] Howell can't," said James T. Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief.
Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the political ramifications are complex.
"Public outrage about the car tax certainly has subsided, and I think many [lawmakers] believe that scaling it back would not have the consequences it once might have," he said. "But it's a gamble in Northern Virginia."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company