- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Virginia Republicans and Democrats who have pushed to keep the car-tax phase-out on track at the last General Assembly said yesterday they will run on fully repealing the tax in November's elections.
One Democratic incumbent even urged his party's gubernatorial candidate, Mark R. Warner, to support elimination of the car tax.
"I think Mark Warner should promise a complete elimination of the car tax," said Delegate Brian J. Moran, who is running for re-election in his district this fall.
"We can't get bogged down on this issue. The people want it and they expect it to go forward. The Democrats have to take back the car-tax-cut issue statewide," said Mr. Moran, who voted for a 70 percent rebate proposal early on, but ended up supporting a 63 percent cut.
Mr. Warner is in favor of repealing the car tax on schedule, his staff members said yesterday.
"Mark Warner will repeal the car tax," said Mo Elleithee, Mr. Warner's press secretary. "Whether or not it's next year, he's going to take a look at the books first and see if the economy will allow him to do it by then."
Under a 1998 law, the car tax is to be phased out over a five-year period ending in 2002. In the first phase of the plan, residents got a 12.5 percent break, a 27.5 percent break in the second, a 47.5 percent break in the third, and a 70 percent break in the fourth. In the fifth and final phase of the plan, taxpayers would get a full refund.
Mr. Warner has said on several occasions that he may delay phasing out the tax to increase teacher salaries, among other things. A delay in the repeal could mean higher tax bills for residents over the next several years.
If it remains on schedule, the phase-out will conclude next year.
Mr. Warner's opponent, Republican nominee Mark L. Earley, has vowed to continue the phase-out on schedule.
All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election in November, which means, at least in Northern Virginia, incumbents will try to reassure voters that they will keep the repeal on track, unless they find it's fiscally impossible.
It became particularly unpleasant this year when the House and the Senate deadlocked over the size of the car-tax rebate. A majority of delegates agreed with the governor that it should stay on schedule at 70 percent this year, but most senators wanted only a 55 percent cut. The legislature adjourned in April without reaching a compromise.
Two Northern Virginia state senators, Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, and Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican, filed a lawsuit in Richmond in April to try to stop the car-tax rebate from going up to 70 percent this year. The lawsuit, scheduled to be heard today, was postponed until July 26.
Northern Virginia is one area where car values and tax rates are higher than in any other area of the state.
"My people are the ones who write the checks, paying too much and getting little in return," said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican who voted for the 70 percent cut and intends to push forward with the final phase next year. "Pretty much that's all what my constituents want, to do away with the car tax."
Democrats shared the Republicans' sentiment.
"I think elections matter," said Delegate Kristen J. Amundsen, an Alexandria Democrat who voted with the House Republicans in support of the 70 percent cut. "It's very clear that my constituents are in favor of getting rid of the car tax."
Although Ms. Amundsen said she supports the repeal, she said people should understand what the trade-offs are. "I would be much happier if we weren't wasting money and if we were honest with people about what they could lose in the end."
Delegate Marian Van Landingham, Alexandria Democrat, said she too is in favor of the car-tax repeal, but only if the state has the revenue to do it. The law requires that revenue grow by 5 percent over the previous year for each phase to take effect.
Mrs. Van Landingham warned it will take an estimated $1.5 billion each year to fully fund the car-tax rebate, the same amount of money the state sets aside to help fund colleges and universities in Virginia.
"Sure it's a nasty little tax and we should try to do away with it," Mrs. Van Landingham said. "But we should do it when we have the means to do it. I don't think we should sacrifice higher education, public health programs, and services that people need just for the tax."
Mr. Moran said he ended up voting for the 63 percent cut at the end of last session because he thought he could reconcile the cuts to fund education and state employee salaries. But he said he believes in fully repealing the car tax.
"It's a tax that people don't like and this is the one that people want to see cut," Mr. Moran said.
In meeting with constituents, some Republicans like Delegate Jay O'Brien of Fairfax have found themselves campaigning for Mr. Earley as well. Mr. O'Brien said having a Republican governor who supports the car-tax repeal would help keep the phase-out on track.
"If you're a voter and your top priority is phasing out the car tax, sending Jay and then voting for Mark Warner wouldn't make sense," Mr. O'Brien said. "If Mark Warner wins, it's over. We'll pass it and he'll veto it."

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