- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Gov. James S. Gilmore III barnstormed across Virginia yesterday, vowing to fight any efforts by the General Assembly to water down his plan to repeal the car tax.

"We need to keep the people's trust. We need to enable working families in Virginia to keep more of the money they earn," Mr. Gilmore said at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, his final stop of a fly-around that took him to Norfolk and Roanoke earlier in the day.

Since the legislative session began in early January, the Republican governor and the General Assembly have locked horns over his car-tax plan, which would cost the state $1 billion a year in reimbursements to local governments that otherwise would get the tax revenue.

The state currently reimburses 47.5 percent of the tax on the first $20,000 of a vehicle's worth; Mr. Gilmore wants his plan to continue as scheduled with the state reimbursing 70 percent of the tax back to localities.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a budget that goes along with his plan, but the Senate Finance Committee voted for a slower phaseout of the car tax, halting it at 50 percent this year and 70 percent the next.

Mr. Gilmore said that amounts to a tax increase of $264 million, because the 70 percent level already has been figured into the state's two-year budget.

A full vote on both the House and Senate committees' budget recommendations is scheduled for tomorrow.

Mr. Gilmore used yesterday's news conferences to rally Virginia residents and have them call, write, e-mail or fax their support of his plan to repeal the car tax.

His office has added a "No Car Tax" link complete with flashing car lights to his official Web site (www.thedigitaldominion.com), where residents can find out who their senators and delegates are and telling them how to get in touch with them.

"Public servants need to hear from the people that they serve," Mr. Gilmore said.

The governor's office, as part of its lobbying effort, produced a report designed to bring the impact home to residents. It identifies the difference between the Senate plan and the House plan for a sample family in every county, city and town in the state, based on what the local personal property tax rate is.

In Fairfax County, a family with two cars, valued at $7,000 and $15,000, would pay $502 more in car tax if the Senate plan passes. In Alexandria, the family would pay about $525 more. A Manassas family would get the least benefit, but still see a difference of $335.

The governor made a point of singling out Stafford County, represented by Sen. John H. Chichester, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee. Mr. Chichester has led opposition to taking the rebate to 70 percent. The governor's analysis showed his hypothetical family would pay $603 more under Mr. Chichester's plan.

Mr. Chichester said he wants a repeal of the car tax, but not if it means putting the state in debt.

"To call the failure to move from 47.5 percent to 70 percent as a tax increase is an incredible stretch of the imagination," Mr. Chichester said. "To say that this is a tax increase is like saying that someone who failed to get a bonus at the end of the year got their salary cut."

He also said Mr. Gilmore has promised he would not compromise.

"Every ounce of rhetoric that has emanated from him to us is that he would veto anything less than 70 percent," he said.

But Mr. Gilmore did not shut the door on a compromise or threaten a veto yesterday, saying he would try to persuade senators who disagreed with him.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, said Mr. Gilmore should listen to his fellow Republicans who think his plan is a bad idea.

"In my estimation, he is planning to borrow the money to fund the car-tax reduction," Mrs. Whipple said, adding that Mr. Gilmore "has very little history of working cooperatively with this legislature" and may not be willing to compromise.

Flying around the state holding news conferences about the car tax and the new Web site, Mrs. Whipple said, shows that Mr. Gilmore "does have a campaign mentality."

Stephen Medvic, a political science professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, said Mr. Gilmore's appearances around the state aren't "unlike a president taking the bully pulpit … but [governors are] not often in that position."

There may be more pressure on Mr. Gilmore to get his car-tax plan through, Mr. Medvic said, because he is now in the high-profile position as Republican National Committee chairman of selling President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut.

"There will be some question if he can't sell [a tax cut] on the state level, how well he'll do it on the national level," Mr. Medvic said.

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