THE THREE Republicans running for governor in Virginia have tax plans that break down as follows: One offers a massive free lunch, on the assumption that the commonwealth is populated with suckers. The second promises the same thing, without his rival’s elaborate explanation. The third is leveling with GOP primary voters, which may explain why he trails the field.
Mr. Free Lunch is Ed Gillespie, a Washington insider and veteran political strategist who would hand everyone a sizable tax cut — much more sizable for the rich than for the middle class — that would sap annual state revenues from the outset by hundreds of millions of dollars, from a general fund budget of about $20 billion.
Which state programs would be slashed to pay for this? Would spending on schools be whacked? On police, parks, mental-health care or roads? No: By a miracle of modern math, no important programs would suffer, says Mr. Gillespie — or none he cared to mention when asked during a three-person debate last week.
With reason, Mr. Gillespie, the front-runner in fundraising and polls, was mocked by his two opponents: Corey A. Stewart, the immigrant-bashing chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, and state Sen. Frank Wagner, who represents Virginia Beach. As it happens, though, Mr. Stewart, whose campaign consists largely of cozying up to Confederate symbols, also promises painless tax cuts; he just doesn’t bother trying to justify it with phony math, as Mr. Gillespie does.
Then there is Mr. Wagner, a businessman who says he learned to tell the truth as a midshipman at the Naval Academy. Mr. Wagner, who joined moderate Republicans and Democrats in voting to raise the gas tax to pay for long-overdue state transportation projects in 2013, reasonably insists that Virginia’s sluggish economy, sapped by slower federal spending, may regain its competitive edge by upgrading its infrastructure, including roads and highways. And, in what counts as an act of courage when facing Republican voters, he acknowledges that this requires tax revenue.
The contrast is stark between Mr. Wagner, who has been a lawmaker in Richmond for more than 25 years, and his rivals. Mr. Stewart loves to brag about all the new road-building in Prince William , when in fact he opposed the taxes that pay for it; those roads are under construction despite Mr. Stewart’s efforts, not because of them.
As for Mr. Gillespie, he insists his plan, which includes cutting income-tax rates by 10 percent, would barely cause a ripple — as if his $1.3 billion giveaway would simply go unnoticed, or that no programs need suffer if inflation outstrips state spending. That’s the kind of approach that crippled states such as Kansas and Louisiana, where Republican governors took a scythe to revenue, pretending the result would be an economic boom; in fact, they gutted core services and sent investors fleeing.
Mr. Wagner, as the grown-up in the bunch, may get no traction in the primary; he currently lags in fundraising and the polls. But just in case anyone’s interested in an honest benchmark, it’s good he is in the race.