- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

During Wednesday night's Virginia gubernatorial debate, Republican candidate Mark Earley defined some key differences on issues separating him from Democratic nominee Mark Warner. For example, throughout the campaign, Mr. Warner has repeatedly sought to obfuscate his support for tax increases. On transportation issues, he has attempted to do this by calling for a referendum on sales tax hikes to pay for transportation projects. But, on Wednesday night, Mr. Earley refused to let Mr. Warner get away with it. The Republican candidate stated that, "on the day before the stock market fell 600 points, [Mr. Warner] released a written plan that called for over $900 million in tax increases." Mr. Warner countered that allowing the voters to decide about tax increases isn't the same as raising taxes. Mr. Earley replied by noting that, because Mr. Warner includes this $900 million in his transportation plan for the region, he is in essence counting on a tax increase. Score one for Mr. Earley.

Mr. Earley clearly understands that his best hope for overcoming what had been a double-digit deficit in the polls with Mr. Warner a multimillionaire who faces no financial obstacles to getting his message out is by hammering away at Mr. Warner's support for high taxes. And Mr. Warner is giving Mr. Earley plenty of ammunition.

Like Virginia's current governor James Gilmore, who headed a federal commission that recommended a continuation of the Internet tax moratorium Mr. Earley also supports a continued moratorium. Mr. Warner, however, sounded downright Clintonesque when asked his position at an Aug. 28 appearance in Richmond. Mr. Warner said he favors continuing the moratorium "at this point," because it is advantageous to Virginia-based high-tech firms. Apparently, the possibility of ending whatever "disadvantage" exists for non-Internet companies by reducing their taxes just didn't occur to Mr. Warner.

If anything, the differences become even sharper when one compares the positions staked out by the two candidates on the car tax repeal. Mr. Earley remains committed to the course pioneered by Mr. Gilmore, whose insistence on repealing this insidious tax got him elected governor in 1997.

Mr. Warner, on the other hand, hems and haws. In July, for example, his press secretary, Mo Elleithee, declared that "Mark Warner will repeal the car tax." Then Mr. Elleithee added that "whether or not" the repeal occurs next year as planned (and as favored by Mr. Earley), Mr. Warner is "going to take a look at the books first, and see if the economy will let him do it by then." Indeed, The Washington Post reported following Wednesday's debate that Mr. Warner "has promised only to do it by the end of a four-year term as governor."

Mr. Warner, in short, is your classic high-tax liberal. Mr. Earley's ability to hammer this point home to voters will help determine who will become the Old Dominion's next governor.

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