- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley says he's fully committed to completing the car-tax cut next year, but he also says he cannot guarantee it.
"I am unequivocal on the car tax, in the sense that I am committed to phasing it out on time and on target," he said in a meeting with reporters and editors at The Washington Times yesterday.
He added, however, that it's not entirely up to him. "Keep in mind that the governor has to work with 140 legislators we don't rule by dictatorship. We have to get that through the legislature, and as governor I am absolutely committed to doing that, and hopefully, we're going to get the cooperation we need to get that done."
Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, cruised to victory in 1997 by promising to phase out the personal property tax on cars of up to $20,000 in value, over five years. The fourth year was completed this year, with the rebate now at 70 percent of a car's tax bill, but in the process Mr. Gilmore and the legislature were unable to amend the state's two-year budget.
The election is Nov. 6, and recent polls show everything from Mr. Earley trailing Democrat Mark R. Warner by double digits to the two in a statistical tie.
Tonight, the two men face off in Roanoke for their fourth and final debate. The 8 p.m. debate won't be shown live in the Washington region, but can be seen on cable's News Channel 8 at 9 p.m. tonight or on WRC-TV (Channel 4) at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The two are certain to pick up where they left off in last week's debate, with Mr. Earley charging that 40 percent of Mr. Warner's $2.25 billion transportation plan is financed by bonds paid for by a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia.
Yesterday, Mr. Warner released another television ad responding to the charges.
"I will not raise taxes," he tells viewers, arguing that he only wants to give residents of Northern Virginia the power to vote on the issue.
But Mr. Earley yesterday said Mr. Warner isn't trustworthy on the issue.
"He is counting that money in the plan he is proposing to Virginians, so it is clear to me he wants to raise taxes, however they may get to be imposed, and that's a fundamental difference between us I think voters need to understand," he said.
Still, he left himself an opening to sign the same bill, saying only that he'll veto it in the current economic climate. He wouldn't say what he would do if the economy improves during the next governor's four-year term. "I would certainly veto it in these economic times, but I cannot see what the future's going to hold beyond now," he said.
On other tax issues, Mr. Earley said if the state's tax code is redesigned, he wants to make sure the new system doesn't result in a tax increase. He wasn't familiar with proposals for a commuter tax in the District, but said, "If it's a new tax, I'm not for it."
The 47-year-old father of six is a lawyer who served 10 years in the state Senate and then more than three years as state attorney general before resigning in June to run for governor.
He said that experience makes him the right person for the job, compared with Mr. Warner, who has never held elected office, both in light of the public-safety challenges in a post-Sept. 11 world and in light of the budget impasse in last year's General Assembly.
He said his first action as governor would be to host a reception for legislators, in order to get off on the right foot. "It's one of those things, quite frankly, I'm going to make sure I remind myself of how I felt in the Senate, when I was a senator dealing with a governor," he said.
Mr. Earley said he opposes several of the traffic-safety bills likely to come to the governor's desk over the next four years.
On red-light cameras, Mr. Earley said he opposes expanding the law to allow other jurisdictions to use them. "I just think in general it moves us more and more towards a society in which, if we don't be careful, then every action is monitored by some sort of computer or camera or surveillance," he said.
Mr. Earley opposes allowing police to pull over and ticket a driver just for not wearing a seat belt, arguing that the current law in which an officer can ticket only if he's pulled the driver over for another offense is enough. "I think you can work toward higher [seat-belt use] through education," he said.
Mr. Earley also opposes restricting use of cellular phones in cars. "I think there are other ways to education the public to be safe without another law that bans something people do," he said.

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