GATE CITY, Va., March 21 -- Former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore began his quest to reclaim Virginia's executive mansion for Republicans on Monday, pledging to slow the upward spiral of real estate taxes for homeowners while improving the transportation network and education system.
Kilgore, 43, returned to his childhood home to launch his bid in front of an enthusiastic crowd of about 800 at Gate City High School in southwest Virginia. In an evening speech, he promised that, if elected, he will seek a constitutional amendment that would limit increases in home assessments to no more than 5 percent a year.
Former Virginia Lt. Gov. Jerry Kilgore, his wife, Marty, and their children Klarke, front right, and Kelsey, enjoy the campaign kickoff rally at Gate City High School in Gate City, Va
(Steve Helber - AP)
Campaign In Focus|
Here are some highlights of the campaign platform outlined yesterday by Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore.
Cap increases in real estate assessments at 5 percent a year.
Require a referendum for any tax increase unless a public emergency were declared. (Aides said Kilgore would veto any tax increase without a referendum until such an amendment was in place.)
Create a commission to monitor state spending.
Improve the state's road network by creating regional transportation authorities.
Offer higher pay to better teachers.
Start a trust fund for school construction and technology enhancements.
Complete phaseout of the car tax.
If local governments want more money, he said, their leaders should be forced to openly increase tax rates, not rely on rising assessments to fuel what he called "backdoor" tax increases.
"No Virginian should be forced out of his or her home because of runaway property assessments," Kilgore said. "My plan is an honest plan that attacks the real problem: skyrocketing property tax assessments that result in higher real estate taxes paid by you."
Kilgore also proposed a constitutional amendment that would require public referendums for any tax increase unless a public emergency were declared.
With Kilgore's announcement, all the major candidates are now in the field for an election that will be closely watched by politicians across the country as they test theories and watch for trends.
Kilgore's likely Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, last week proposed creating a "homestead exemption" that would allow local governments to designate up to 20 percent of a home's value tax free. The competing plans suggest an election-year clash over tax cuts similar to the debate on James S. Gilmore III's "no car tax" promise in his successful campaign for governor in 1997.
Kilgore and Kaine hope to succeed Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who is prohibited by the state's constitution from holding a second consecutive term. In his 2001 campaign, Warner ended a decade-long string of Republican successes partly by appealing to the state's increasingly conservative rural voters.
Kilgore hopes to win those voters back in much the same way that President Bush bested Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in Virginia last year. Kerry won in Northern Virginia, including in increasingly Democratic Fairfax County, but lost by wide margins in the state's south, southwest and mountain valleys.
Kilgore's property tax plan would slow Virginia's growth in home assessments by limiting how quickly they can rise annually. This year, home assessments in Arlington County are up 24 percent and 21 percent in Alexandria. In Fairfax, the average assessment has increased 23 percent.
Local officials in some jurisdictions have responded by cutting tax rates. But even with those reductions, most homeowners will pay hundreds of dollars more.
"This is the hot issue right now that cuts across partisan lines," said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "People are opening up these new assessment letters, and people are angry. It's a core pocketbook issue. We have seen in Virginia and elsewhere that these issues can drive elections."
Kilgore is set to begin a four-stop tour of the state in Roanoke on Tuesday morning, with later visits in Arlington, Virginia Beach and Richmond. Throughout, he will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Virginia's senior Republicans, including U.S. Sens. George Allen and John W. Warner, Gilmore and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III.
"Y'all ready to win?" Allen shouted as he introduced Kilgore to the crowd about 6:20 p.m. "Jerry Kilgore is a person of honesty and integrity. We need to call him Governor Jerry Kilgore."
Kilgore will face Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in a GOP primary June 14. Republican Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (Winchester) is running as an independent.
Kaine kicked off his own campaign tour last week. That tour continued Monday morning as Kaine appeared in Gate City ahead of Kilgore. Kaine repeated his pledge to lower homeowner taxes, and he challenged Kilgore to debate monthly in all regions of the state. Kaine also began radio ads highlighting religion in rural and suburban parts of the state.
"My family and Christian faith are the core values that guide me," he says in one ad running in the Roanoke, Richmond and Norfolk areas.
In his speech Monday evening, Kilgore cast his plan to cap assessments as a necessary reform that would hold local officials accountable for the taxes they impose while giving them flexibility to raise the money they need.
"My opponent, he offers a dishonest plan that fails to address the problem," he said. "Under my plan, tax relief is not an option left to local officials, it is my promise from me to you."
Kilgore also pledged to improve the state's road network by creating regional transportation authorities. He vowed to create a commission to monitor state spending. And he promised to support education by offering better teachers higher pay and creating a new trust fund for school construction and technology.