- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Virginia's revenue collections fell substantially in September compared with last September, leaving the state 2.4 percent below last year's first-quarter collections and threatening the final year of the car-tax phaseout.
September's numbers fell 8.4 percent, Finance Secretary John Forbes said in a briefing with state lawmakers yesterday. He said September's numbers don't even capture the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which analysts say has hit the economy hard.
All of that makes it less likely the state can go forward with the final phase of the five-year plan to cut the state's personal property tax on cars. If growth falls significantly below the revenue forecast, the car tax is designed to be frozen in place. A 2.4 percent drop in revenue is nearly 10 percent off the current forecast for 7.5 percent growth.
Lawmakers can go forward with the car-tax cut if they choose to rewrite the law as part of the next budget, but that depends heavily on the wishes of who wins the governor's race Nov. 6.
Republican candidate Mark L. Earley, who has said he wants to finish the tax cut on time, remains committed but acknowledged the financial picture looks bleak, his spokesman said yesterday.
"Mark Earley has always been committed to cutting the car tax on time and on target, but has said he would not tap the rainy-day fund in order to get there, so we will have to take a wait-and-see approach," said David Botkins, Mr. Earley's spokesman.
Democrat Mark R. Warner, meanwhile, has said he will complete the phaseout within four years but wants to examine the state's finances before deciding whether he would do it next year. His position has not changed in light of yesterday's revenue report, his spokeswoman said.
The state did get some good economic news last week when the three investment ratings services reaffirmed Virginia's AAA bond ratings. Mr. Forbes said especially when compared with neighboring states that have received warnings or had their ratings downgraded, for Virginia to maintain its ratings is an endorsement of the state's financial practices.
He also said despite potentially poor October numbers caused by the terrorist attacks, the state's revenue picture looks brighter for spring because of the proposed federal economic stimulus package and other aid the state may receive.
Also yesterday, campaigns filed their financial reports through the end of September, and the candidates broke several records.
Mr. Warner now has the record for most money raised in a Virginia governor's race with more than $12.3 million. With 37 fund-raising days to go, that already easily tops the $10 million raised by current Gov. James S. Gilmore III in 1997.
As of Sept. 30, Mr. Warner had almost $2.2 million cash available.
Mr. Earley, meanwhile, set a record for one month's fund raising with $2.3 million. His total raised to date is $8.1 million, with about $1 million of that being raised for his exploratory committee and the rest raised since he formed his campaign committee in January. He had a little less than $1 million in cash available on Sept. 30.
The biggest expenditures at this point in a campaign typically come from television advertisements. Both campaigns have been running television advertisements almost continuously since late September, sparring over taxes and credibility.
Mr. Warner has contributed about $800,000 of his own money to his campaign, including $8,353 in September, his campaign said.
More than $1.5 million of Mr. Earley's September total came from national Republican Party groups, and to date he has taken more than $2 million from those groups.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Tim Kaine leads Republican Jay Katzen in fund raising to date with more than $1.7 million to Mr. Katzen's roughly $1 million. He also had about $300,000 more cash on hand as of Sept. 30.
In the attorney general's race, Republican Jerry Kilgore has raised almost $1.6 million. Democrat A. Donald McEachin had not reported his numbers by press time.

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