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Va. Voters Promised a Voice on Taxes

GOP Gubernatorial Hopeful Kilgore Also Vows Better Roads

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page B01

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore pledged yesterday to give Virginia voters a veto over plans to raise money for transportation and other state services by requiring a referendum for most tax increases.

During stops in Arlington County and across the state, Kilgore promised that as governor, he will seek passage of a constitutional amendment to prohibit state lawmakers from increasing the gas, sales or income taxes without voter approval.

Sen. John W. Warner and former governor James S. Gilmore III flank fellow Republican Jerry W. Kilgore at a rally. (James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

Candidates on Taxes

The candidates in the Virginia governor's race have laid out various proposals and positions on taxes.

Timothy M. Kaine: The Democratic lieutenant governor proposes a state constitutional amendment allowing local governments to exempt as much as 20 percent of a farm or home's assessment from property taxes.

Jerry W. Kilgore: The Republican candidate and former attorney general proposes constitutional amendments capping annual increases in assessments at 5 percent and requiring referendums on any increases in the sales, gas or income taxes.

George B. Fitch: The mayor of Warrenton who is opposing Kilgore in the June 14 Republican primary pledges never to raise taxes and vows to cut more than $1.5 billion from the state budget.

H. Russell Potts Jr.: The state senator from Winchester who is running as an "independent Republican" in the Nov. 7 general election says he would allow local governments to reinstate the car tax and would consider tax increases to pay for transportation improvements.

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The tax referendum proposal builds on Kilgore's plan to cap home assessments at 5 percent per year and appeared aimed at heading off debate in the legislature next year about raising the gas tax to boost spending on transportation projects. Last year, lawmakers rejected pleas by Kilgore and others for a referendum before they voted to raise taxes.

"Government should not tell the people how much it wants," he said repeatedly at campaign events. "The people should tell government how much it gets."

In Northern Virginia, Kilgore seized on frustration with crowded roads by saying he will champion "new thinking" and private innovation to push forward on long-delayed projects such as the widening of Interstate 66 through Arlington.

"We are going to widen I-66 in spite of some of the local government desires along that corridor," he said after speaking in Arlington, the county most opposed to that project. "We should have widened it decades ago."

But he said voters should have the final say on how much money to invest in building roads, bridges, tunnels and rail lines.

Kilgore said decisions about roads in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and other regions should be handled by regional transportation authorities he would create, with the power to raise money and direct how it is spent. Such an authority exists in Northern Virginia, but it does not have enough power, he said.

He also heaped scorn on a state transportation system he said is run by people who don't understand the real problem.

"I trust the people driving on the roads, not the bureaucrats staring at a map in Richmond," he declared to energetic applause at the Crystal Marriott Gateway in Arlington, where about 250 supporters packed a ballroom.

Kilgore made his case on taxes and transportation as he crisscrossed the state to announce his bid for governor. In speeches in Roanoke, Virginia Beach and Richmond, he also called for a merit pay system for teachers and the creation of a commission to monitor government spending.

In Arlington, he entered the ballroom to applause and the thunderous booms of the Van Halen song, "Right Now." At the lectern, he stood in front of a banner reading "Honest Reform" and was flanked by U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, former governor James S. Gilmore III and Rep. Frank R. Wolf.

Gilmore later predicted that Kilgore's proposal to cap home assessments could be potent enough to be the election equivalent of his own "no car tax" pledge in 1997. "It's got legs," he said of the idea.

But he was less enthusiastic about the notion of calling for referendums on just about every tax increase, saying only, "I certainly support the candidate."

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