- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2001

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore continues, laudably, to push for the final elimination of Virginia's hated car tax, despite vociferous opposition from state lawmakers, mostly Democrats, who still sting from Mr. Gilmore's electoral landslide into the governor's office largely on the popularity of Mr. Gilmore's pledge to get rid of the car tax.

The phaseout of the highly regressive car tax technically a personal property tax on motor vehicles began in 1998, with the elimination of any tax at all on the first $20,000 of a car or truck's value. This effectively meant the end of the car tax for most people, whose cars and trucks are typically worth less than $20,000. The tax originally walloped Virginians with a levy of 4.5 percent of the total value of a vehicle which often resulted in a bill of several hundred dollars, and even $1,000 or more, each year. The average new car entailed a car tax bill of about $800 every year until depreciation ate away at the vehicle's value.

The car tax was and remains hugely resented by Virginians, who rallied to Mr. Gilmore's banner during his gubernatorial run. Upon assuming office, Mr. Gilmore delivered on his promise and a multi-year phaseout passed the General Assembly. But the phaseout is not complete and any person who owns a car or truck valued at more than $20,000 is still subject to tax as of today.

The remainder of the car tax on the value of a car or truck above $20,000 is scheduled for elimination in 2002 and it is on this final leg of the phaseout that Mr. Gilmore is encountering political resistance.

As Mr. Gilmore enters the final stretch of his tenure as Virginia's governor, this will be perhaps his final battle with Democratic lawmakers who appear bent on reneging on the promise made to Virginia voters. On Thursday, the State Finance Committee in Richmond voted to reject Mr. Gilmore's plan to use tobacco settlement funds to help finance repeal of the car tax. Legislators want to use the $460 million in tobacco settlement funds for other purposes read state spending.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple said that "Yes, we have promised the car tax, and we want to see that promise carried through. But we promised to cut the tax in a way that would not jeopardize the future solvency of the commonwealth."

Democrats and other state lawmakers should evince more concern for the solvency of Virginia taxpayers not the "solvency of the commonwealth." As Mr. Gilmore remarked the other day, the tax relief made possible by elimination of the car tax "makes a real difference in the lives of the people we serve. We overwhelmingly enacted this together and most of us campaigned on it," he said. "Together, let us keep the trust of the people." Indeed.


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